Episode Guide / New Columbo episodes / Opinion / Season 9

Episode review: Columbo Agenda for Murder

Columbo Agenda for Murder

February 10, 1990 was the day ‘new Columbo’ got serious as it marked the RETURN OF THE MAC (or Mc, anyway): Patrick McGoohan!

The two-time killer from Columbo’s 70s’ era was back in a big way, both starring in and directing Agenda for Murder – a tale of political skulduggery on an even grander scale than Candidate for Crime 17 years earlier.

Having a man of McGoohan’s stature back in Columbo colours was a huge boost for a series that had struggled to live up to the hype since its revival a year earlier. But is the episode actually any good, or is it a load of popp-ee-cock? Let’s chomp on some cheese and fake laugh at bad jokes as we find out…

Columbo Agenda for Murder cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Oscar Finch: Patrick McGoohan
Paul Mackey: Denis Arndt
Frank Staplin: Louis Zorich
Sgt George Kramer: Bruce Kirby
Mrs Finch: Penny Fuller
Louise: Anne Haney
Governor Montgomery: Arthur Hill
Tim Haines: Stanley Kamel
Mr Amir: Shaun Toub
Rebecca Christy: Annie Stewart
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom
Directed by: Patrick McGoohan
Score by: David Michael Frank

Episode synopsis: Columbo Agenda for Murder

Renowned defence attorney Oscar Finch has grand ambitions of becoming Attorney General by helping long-time crony, Congressman Paul Mackey, secure a Vice Presidential running ticket alongside White House hopeful Governor Montgomery.

Yet mere days ahead of the Californian State Primary a cloud appears on the horizon: a cloud in the shape of crooked businessman Frank Staplin. The jolly Santa lookalike has a history with Finch from 20 years before, when Finch successfully helped Staplin avoid jail time. However, to achieve this, Finch had to coerce then-Assistant District Attorney Paul Mackey to ‘lose’ a piece of crucial evidence.

Columbo Agenda for Murder Frank Staplin
How to solve a problem like Frank Staplin in one easy lesson

Now, Staplin is in trouble with the law again and makes a late-night call to Finch’s residence to beg an audience with the lawyer. Evidently expecting just such a showdown, Finch drives to his office to set a deadly plan into action.

First, he crumbles and burns an entire cigar in an ashtray before extricating gunpowder from a .32 bullet, containing it in some tin foil, and then setting it alight. The wily legal eagle then dons a Columbo-style trench coat (less wrinkled, mind you) and walks to Staplin’s house to avoid his car being seen at the soon-to-be crime scene.

Staplin is interrupted from FAXING A MESSAGE (consult Google, everyone born after 1990) by a ringy-ding at the door. It’s that man Finch, who is warmly welcomed, although it’s clear that Finch is highly wary of the jovial beardo – for good reason. Staplin is facing a five-year jail term and is desperate for Finch’s help to beat the rap.

The attorney firmly rebuffs Staplin’s advances, at which point any pretence of frivolity is over. If Finch won’t help, Staplin will blow the whistle on how Mackey and Finch combined to get him off the hook 20 years earlier. Quick as a flash, Finch steps up to Staplin’s side and blows him away with a gunshot to the temple – a lone drop of blood plopping onto the wooden floor, as Finch sets down the square of cheese he’d been nibbling.

Finch then creates a scene suggesting suicide, placing Staplin’s prints on the gun and depositing some of that burnt gunpowder on his cold, dead hand. The gun falls from Staplin’s dangling hand and clatters on the floor as Finch makes good his escape.

The weather has taken a turn for the worse since he arrived, though. It’s now sheeting down with rain, crinkling Finch’s suit trousers and soaking him to the marrow as he walks back to the office. The rain stops as he dries off, however, revealing a conspicuous dry patch under his car as he finally heads for home. Gee, I wonder if that’ll be noticed?

Columbo car
I spy a dry patch below that oxidised relic

Early the next day, the police investigation is well underway at Staplin HQ after his body was discovered by a security detail at 4am. Lieutenant Columbo and his old stomping buddy Sergeant Kramer are the men in charge. As well as being pleased to find a block of fine Reggiano cheese on Staplin’s desk, Columbo is immediately bothered by aspects of the crime scene.

Most importantly, the gun is found directly on top of a blob of dried blood. But there’s no blood on the gun at all. How could that be? It’s a puzzle that will bother him. Another mystery regards the state-of-the-art fax machine, which Staplin had evidently been using. With the help of Staplin’s secretary, he’s able to determine that the victim had faxed a hand-written message to his wife at her hotel in Hawaii shortly before he was killed. He also discovers that the last person Staplin called on his phone was Oscar Finch.

Racing over to Finch’s office, Columbo instantly notices the dry spot on the car park surface. Upon entering the building, he confronts an officious secretary spraying air freshener with avengeance to mask the aroma of an offensive cigar that had been smoked there at some point after closing time the night before. She eyes the cigar-holding detective with distaste.

Finch bustles in, bristling about the “decomposing rattle trap” that has been parked in his space, which is, of course, Columbo’s dilapidated Peugeot. Although vaguely irritated, Finch is not surprised by Columbo’s visit. Indeed, he’s been expecting a visit from the police because (he claims) he was called by an agitated Frank Staplin the night before.

According to Finch, there was no personal meeting. Staplin rang him pleading for help and bordering on despair. Finch rejected his pleas and hung up. The resulting rejection – and fear of incarceration – must have driven the man to suicide. Columbo does receive confirmation that Finch held a meeting at his office after the call from Staplin, but attorney/client privilege means that he won’t reveal who the meeting was with. At any rate, it gives him an alibi of sorts.

The Lieutenant later tracks the ever-busy Finch down at the courthouse to grill him further. Although Finch claims Staplin was in despair, the fax he’d been sending his wife right before his death contained two jokes – one of which Columbo reads to the lawyer, who roars with hysterical laughter for nigh-on 20 seconds. Yet Columbo has a serious point to make: why would a man who was faxing jokes commit suicide shortly after?

Columbo Agenda for Murder
Haven’t seen this much fake laughter since the barmaid wet herself while howling at limericks in The Conspirators

Although things seem suspicious, Columbo needs some hard proof so widens his investigation to include Congressman Mackey. However, he gleans nothing useful from the politician except his autograph for Mrs Columbo. Mackey, however, is rattled by the questions and, in turn, grills Finch about Staplin’s death. Finch continues to deny his involvement.

Columbo, meanwhile, finally has something to go on. He manages to track down Finch’s dry cleaner (?) and gets his trotters on the suit Finch was wearing on the night of the Staplin murder. Strangely, it doesn’t smell of cigar smoke (unlike the office where he claimed he was holding a meeting) and the lower trouser legs are all wrinkly – a sure-fire sign that they were worn outdoors in the rain.

Still, Columbo’s focus on Finch is unwavering and his unwelcome attentions drive the lawyer to finally bring Mackey into his confidence. Finch admits the killing of Staplin in order to keep the his and Mackey’s White House juggernaut on the road. Mackey is livid – and things only get worse when Finch reveals that the Congressman will have to provide him with an alibi.

This gives Columbo an additional headache, which he’s able to cure through some old skool snooping at Finch’s office. While a secretary is distracted, the Lieutenant sneaks a wad of chewing gum from Finch’s bin and places it in an evidence bag. We don’t know why yet, but this find will blow the case right open.

It’s now the night of the California Primary. Columbo shows up to the after party, where confidence is high that the Montgomery/Mackey dream ticket has taken its first real step towards the White House. But Columbo has plans to rain on the parade, first taking Mackey aside for some severely tough talking.

Columbo Agenda for Murder Paul Mackey
Lieutenant Columbo: tough talking crooked politicians since 1973

During an earlier inteview, Mackey had told Columbo not to smoke in his office. Turns out he’d given up cigars just three weeks earlier. So how come Finch’s office smelled so strongly of cigars the next morning, the Lieutenant asks. Ever ready with a quick reply, Mackey spins a yarn about only having given up in public because smoking is bad for the image.

If that’s plausible, the rest of his spiel is not. Mackey claims he and Finch arrived at and left the office at around the same time, and both had parked in the car lot. It was not raining at the time they both left, he swears. Add in the fact that Columbo has deduced the past connection between Staplin, Finch and Mackey and the Congressman is on shaky ground. Unsatisfied, Columbo delivers a stern warning to Mackey: “If I were you, I wouldn’t perjure myself for Mr Oscar Finch.”

Columbo next confronts Finch, who is out hallooing with the masses as word of Montgomery’s victory is confirmed. Rather than beating around the bush, Columbo outright (albeit politely) accuses Finch of murder and the two scuttle off to a side room for a private conference.

Columbo produces the dry-cleaned suit, which Finch admits is his and that it did indeed get wet in the rain. But Columbo pushes further. Finch killed Staplin to prevent him blabbing about their previous agreement 20 years earlier, he states. Finch walked to his office from Staplin’s home getting wet in the process, but the rain had stopped before he drove home, explaining the dry patch in the parking lot.

It’s sound police work, but Finch is utterly unfazed. An accusation of this type requires definite proof of presence at the scene of the crime and Columbo doesn’t have it. In Finch’s words, all the detective has “is a load of unsubstantiated, circumstantial POPP-EE-COCK!

What Columbo might have more accurately said was that he didn’t have the proof yet. Minutes later he does, crossing a stream of revellers to snatch an arrest warrant from Sergeant Kramer’s reaching hand before brandishing it under Finch’s nose. This time, there’s no where for Finch to run. Columbo has him bang to rights.

Columbo Agenda for Murder
Not laughing now are we, cheese boy?

The Lieutenant’s earlier snooping paid off. He was able to match teeth impressions on the wad of gum from Finch’s bin and an x-ray of his teeth with bite marks on a piece of cheese left at the scene of Staplin’s murder. There’s no doubt that Finch was at the crime scene on the night Staplin was killed. He’s placed under arrest on suspicion of murder.

What should have been a night of triumph for Finch has become a disaster. “One bite of cheese…” he rues in disbelief, as credits roll…



My memories of Agenda for Murder

I clearly remember watching and enjoying Agenda for Murder on TV in the early 2000s. It stuck with me because McGoohan (even though I didn’t realise it was McGoohan, or what a Columbo legacy the man had) was so watchable and delivered his lines in such an amusing fashion.

Columbo Oscar Finch
Awesome villain: Oscar Finch

I was delighted with the cleverness of the cheese-nibbling clue and would often quote Finch’s ‘one bite of cheese’ lament to my sister, who had viewed the episode at the same time. We would also bust out Finch-style howls of laughter at bad jokes for many years afterwards. It made quite the impression on us.

Being a relatively uninitiated viewer at the time, I gave no thought to whether this was a ‘classic’ or ‘new’ episode, and enjoyed it as much as any of the 70s’ outings I had watched up to that point. In short, I’ve always found this to be a cracking romp, so approached watching it again after a long, self-imposed interval with no small measure of anticipation.

Episode analysis

Of Columbo’s Great Triumvirate of baddies, I’ve always favoured Cassidy and Culp over McGoohan. Something about the supreme contrast they offer to Peter Falk’s crumpled earthiness just can’t be beaten.

However, as far as Columbo’s revival goes, the return of McGoohan heralds a turning point for the series. Here’s a star with a big enough name to turn the heads of a new audience, while appealing to die-hard fans who remembered his stellar contribution to the 70s’ series (Last Salute to the Commodore excepted).

Columbo Agenda for Murder
Finch was stunned by Columbo’s unexpected proposal of marriage

Falk placed great trust in McGoohan, both as an actor and director. Indeed, some of his fondest Columbo memories from the 70s were intrinsically linked to his positive relationship with McGoohan. First working together on By Dawn’s Early Light in 1974, the pair hit it off straight away both on and off-screen. Welcoming McGoohan back to the fold here, therefore, feels like something of a landmark moment – for Falk and for us.

Regular readers will known I’ve been less than enamoured by the overall quality of Columbo’s comeback. The mere presence of McGoohan here would have gone a long way to validating the very existence of the revived series. That he slam dunks a performance and directs a gripping story with aplomb ensures Agenda for Murder becomes the first ‘new Columbo‘ to comfortably compare with the best efforts from the 70s.

“Welcoming McGoohan back to the fold feels like something of a landmark moment.”

McGoohan can never be accused of half-heartedness when it comes to his Columbo contributions, and he once again gives his all in his portrayal of crooked lawyer Oscar Finch, whom I find to be a riveting villain. He sits in a sort of halfway house between McGoohan’s past two Columbo killers: the quietly dignified Colonel Rumford from By Dawn’s Early Light, and the overtly eccentric Nelson Brenner in Identity Crisis.

Certainly, Finch is a lot more fun to watch than the humourless Rumford, but he’s also a lot more grounded in reality than Brenner. What eccentricities McGoohan does bring to the role centre around Finch’s whirlwind nature, his immaculate turn of phrase and his habitual nibbling of whatever foodstuffs he can lay his hands on.

Agenda for Murder Patrick McGoohan
Finch gets his nibble on within the episode’s opening three minutes

It’s the latter that finally dooms his character, the bite marks Finch leaves on a piece of cheese on victim Frank Staplin’s desk firmly placing him at the scene of the crime. Yet what could have been a clumsy and obvious clue was nicely disguised by McGoohan constantly having Finch snacking on little tidbits throughout the episode.

It becomes such a part and parcel of his character that it’s probable many viewers don’t ever think about the incriminating cheese again until Columbo reveals the bite mark evidence in the closing scene. I have to give McGoohan credit for some nice directorial sleight of hand.

Indeed, he’s on solid form as director, here helming his third – and most conventional – Columbo episode. McGoohan’s previous directorial efforts were the bonkers Identity Crisis and the woeful Last Salute – both of which showcased his love of oddity and invention. And while Agenda for Murder is less beautiful to observe cinematically than those two, its got both its feet on the ground (thankfully) when it comes to characters and story.

McGoohan the director does well to rein in his wilder instincts throughout, offering up only a couple of silly missteps in an otherwise businesslike outing. Just about the only scenes I bristle at are Columbo and Sergeant Kramer fighting the tide of political revellers to exchange the arrest warrant late on, the conversation between the Lieutenant and the comedic laundry van driver (why?), and Columbo’s dog-like sniffing around the desk of dead Staplin before he notices the giant block of entirely visible cheese sitting right in front of him. How we laughed

Columbo Agenda for Murder
SMELL MY CHEESE, YOU MOTHER!

Still, by ‘new Columbo‘ standards, a sprinkle of puerile moments represents a pretty acceptable average, and there’s nothing to compare to the Circus Ringmaster/head-in-a-guillotine/tuba parping/bin rummaging/black-and-white dream-style DROSS that the comeback episodes have dished up so far. I consider that a win.

Commendable as his efforts behind the camera are, it’s his performance as Oscar Finch that really demonstrates the value and bravura of McGoohan. He’s really good in this, striking the perfect balance between playful and poised, and bolstering that with the cold edge of a man who won’t let anything come between him and his ambitions – least of all a crook like Frank Staplin.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d wager that McGoohan did a fair amount of tinkering with Jeffrey Bloom’s teleplay in order to give himself more opportunities to put his exquisite elocution skills to better use. If so, it was time well spent because Finch has some cracking lines in the final script, and McGoohan delivers them like no one else could.

Among the aural highlights are his barbs towards Columbo’s car (describing it as a ‘decomposing rattle trap’ and an ‘oxidised relic’ in quick succession), while his dismissal of the Lieutenant’s insinuations that he killed Staplin are the stuff of legend. I’m not convinced that any actor could have come up with a more enthralling recital of the words “unsubstantiated, circumstantial poppycock” than he does here (see below).

In my opinion, Finch is by some margin the best, most watchable villain of Columbo’s second coming so far. Heck, I’d go so far as to say Finch is my single favourite McGoohan baddie amidst some seriously hot competition. Erudite and intelligent, he also never makes the mistake of underestimating Columbo, nor of being overly helpful or suggesting far-fetched theories. He’s a keeper.

Falk, of course, is a key beneficiary of the presence of his good pal and the two have undeniable chemistry brought about by their long-standing friendship. One senses they’re enjoying one another’s company immensely, their easy rapport paving the way to a confrontation between detective and killer that’s as absorbing as any we’ve enjoyed in earlier seasons.

Columbo and Finch have a relationship that is nine-tenths respectful cordiality, but which occasionally gives way to tough talking and moments of merriment. The best respective examples would be the prolonged showdown at the Montgomery/Mackey victory party, at which both men rightly feel they have the upper hand at different times, and the extraordinary scene outside the courthouse when Columbo shares Staplin’s faxed joke with Finch.

Upon hearing the punchline, Finch’s face remains a picture of pop-eyed scepticism for a full five seconds before he emits a single bark of mirth, which gives way to gales of laughter that last almost 20 seconds. It’s remarkable stuff from McGoohan in a moment that could have been ghastly in the hands of a less able and charismatic actor. It’s the most memorable moment in an episode generously stuffed with goodness.

Columbo Agenda for Murder Oscar Finch
All it took was one racist joke to melt Finch’s icy heart

Further delights are to be found in the rather delicious, hard edge Columbo demonstrates throughout, most notably in his handling of Congressman Mackey. Although initially displaying his usual fawning act, even going as far as to secure an autograph for Mrs Columbo (that old chestnut), he later takes a much more uncompromising position – even warning Mackey in no uncertain terms not to perjure himself for Oscar Finch.

It’s always enjoyable to see Columbo drop the act and tell it like it is, and at a time when crooked politicians routinely lie to the public every time they open their mouths, it’s extra sweet to see the little guy tackling corruption at the highest levels.

Speaking of which, Denis Arndt is excellent as Mackey, bringing that sort of slimy insincerity that is all too easy for the viewer to associate with an ambitious politician. But this episode is far more than a three-horse race. Just like the best episodes from the 70s, Agenda for Murder has strength in depth and everyone adds value to proceedings.

It’s particularly nostalgic to see Anne Haney in the role of Finch’s fussy secretary Louise, as I seem to remember seeing her in hundreds of things growing up, while the return of Bruce Kirby as Sergeant Kramer is an additional, welcome tether to the 70s’ series.

This won’t be Kirby’s last Columbo (he’ll return in Strange Bedfellows five years later) but this does mark his sixth and final appearance as Kramer – the series’ single-most recurring character aside from Columbo and Dog. Probably not coincidentally, Kirby first appeared as Kramer alongside Falk and McGoohan in By Dawn’s Early Light 16 years earlier. His Columbo legacy is a proud one.

Columbo Agenda for Murder Sergeant Kramer
Partners in crime…solving: Columbo and Kramer reunited again

Performances-wise, Agenda for Murder is certainly a cut above its Columbo contemporaries. Pleasingly, it’s also a strong mystery in its own right, albeit it one with a few limitations. For starters, the cover-up-a-murder-as-suicide routine is as old as the genre itself, as well as being one we’ve seen in the series a few times before in various guises. It works here, however, because Finch is able to apply his legal know-how to create a very intricate crime scene right down to the gunpowder residue on Staplin’s hands.

Perhaps because of this, the episode has more of a standard police procedural feel to it than many others, with Columbo needing help from the forensics team on a variety of technical matters, including blood-drying times and dental records. It ain’t CSI, but is further along the path to it than just about any other Columbo episode I can think of. Fans who take delight in the Lieutenant eschewing modern police techniques to plough his own furrow may find this sits slightly uneasily with them.

The bigger issue for me, though, is that a lot of the evidence Columbo gathers is rendered meaningless. He traps Mackey in a few lies, sure, but none of the dry patch in the car park, the blood under the gun, or Finch’s soaked suit sent to the dry cleaners ever have a pay-off.

The dry cleaning sub-plot is the worst aspect of the episode, mainly because Columbo does nothing to earn it and it goes nowhere. Merely seeing a laundry van driving around near Staplin’s home somehow triggers a deductive leap to check out all the dry cleaners in the area in case Finch is a client? Sheesh, it feels like a mighty stretch that I can only attribute to no one being able to come up with a decent reason for him to be seeking evidence of this type.

On top of that, the damp suit being thrown in the dry cleaning machine is set up to be a major disappointment for Columbo’s investigation, but it actually has no impact whatsoever. So what was the point in including the sub-plot at all, other than to bump up the running time? Fiddledeedee

Columbo Agenda for Murder
A little cheese with your murder, sir?

Ultimately, despite a lot of leg-work, it’s only the bite-mark evidence that can be considered damning, which in retrospect makes the gotcha slightly more anticlimactic than I remember as one senses this probably should have been arrived at earlier if the police were doing their job properly.

It could be the fact that bite-mark evidence has largely been debunked in recent years that makes the gotcha feel a little hollow today, although for the time it was a hot topic. Indeed, the Police Chief magazine article Columbo references to Finch during the finale was a genuine article that Peter Falk is said to have been so interested in that it was the peg the entire episode was hung on.

My final gripe is that it seems a bit far-fetched that as shrewd an attorney as Finch wouldn’t have concocted a tighter alibi with Mackey. Finch has made a living out of getting folk off the hook in court, so presumably must be an expert in helping his clients create rock-solid responses to aggressive cross-examinations. The holes in Mackey’s account of his supposed clandestine meeting with Finch, their arrival and departure times, and the state of the weather, therefore, seem positively amateurish.

Some viewers have also questioned how unlikely it would be for Finch not to have been aware of Columbo’s stellar arrest record. It’s a valid point and a concern that could have been effortlessly by-passed in the script by a reference to Candidate for Crime, which would have thrilled hardcore fans in the process.

How good would it have been for Finch and Mackey to have been discussing Columbo’s investigation and have Mackey say: “We’ll have to be careful because this is the guy who brought down Nelson Hayward back in ’73.” Finch’s response could have been something along the lines of: “If Hayward had hired me he’d have been out of jail in five years,” underlining his supreme confidence in his abilities, while also acknowledging one of Columbo’s highest-profile cases. It’s a crying shame this didn’t happen.

Columbo Agenda for Murder
“No, I love YOU more…”

Still, I don’t want to be too hard on an episode that has as many plus-points as Agenda for Murder. It’s taken seven outings and a whole year to really find its feet, but Columbo is finally back to something approaching its very best.

Not for the first time, then, fans of the series have every reason to celebrate the enduring excellence of one of its key collaborators. Patrick McGoohan, we salute you.

Did you know?

Falk and McGoohan doubled up again in September of 1990 to scoop prizes at the 42nd Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

Falk picked up his fourth and final Lead Actor Emmy for Columbo, while McGoohan was honoured for his portrayal of Oscar Finch in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series category. It was the second Emmy for McGoohan’s Columbo work after he scooped the same accolade in 1975 for his performance of Colonel Rumford in By Dawn’s Early Light.

As far as I can ascertain, McGoohan wasn’t present to receive his award but you can enjoy Peter’s acceptance speech below…

How I rate ’em

The first of the new breed to really sit comfortably amongst the best of the 70s’ episodes, Agenda for Murder would have been a fine episode at any time. Compared to the rest of the comeback episodes, it’s in an absolute league of its own.

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

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

If you want to check out any of my ‘classic era’ episode reviews, or see how I rank them all in order, they can be accessed here. If Agenda for Murder floats your boat, you can vote for it in the fans’ favourite episode poll here.

Columbo Patrick McGoohan
“You call that a lining?”

Well folks, let me know what your own take on Agenda for Murder is. A modern classic, or still a pale impersonation of the show’s finest hours? All opinions are most welcome.

Do check back in again soon when the next stop on our voyage of rediscovery will be the potentially heart-breaking Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo, a unique episode featuring a vengeful widow and some jars of poisoned marmalade. Sounds tasty. See you then…


Support columbophile

Contribute to the upkeep of this site from just $3, you lovely person, you!

Shop for quality Columbo merchandise here

You surely didn’t think I’d leave you without sharing this celebratory scene, did you?
How did you like this article?

161 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Agenda for Murder

  1. Pingback: Episode review: Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo | THE COLUMBOPHILE

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

  3. For someone constantly nibbling on things, Finch is remarkably slim. I think this episode is easily on a par with some of the best 1970 ones. Just a pity that McGoohan didn’t manage to slip in a “be seeing you” anywhere !

     
  4. AS CP put it, performances are what makes this one an above average new Columbo. IMO, this was McGoohan’s finest performance as a Columbo villain. But, the whole thing with the cheese bitemark leaves me flat in the end.

     
    • But this is where it all comes together. Finch is very careful not to leave fingerprints at the crime scene, but he has no idea that he could be identified by his dental records, perhaps just assuming that the police will think the bite marks in the cheese are Staplin’s.

      It’s never stated outright, but if Columbo thinks it odd a man would kill himself between faxing two good jokes, he might think it odd that he would kill himself between bites of a cheese that happens to be particularly good.

       
      • Why would any lawyer of prominence not keep up on things like bite mark evidence? Someone like Stapleton would have read countless industry periodicals and journals and surely would have encountered several articles on it.

         
  5. When Columbo meets Mackey for the first time, there is a bit of business about the antique chair. Columbo say’s he once damaged a lady’s antique chair and it cost him money. Could this be a reference to Abigail Mitchell in “Try and Catch Me”? I don’t recall him damaging her chair, but he could have added that part just to prolong the interview and wind Mackey up all the more.

     
  6. In a way, it’s a shame that Staplin didn’t commit suicide, as Columbo really is building up a nice relationship with Oscar Finch and the very nice ladies that work for him. As Finch seems to have no partners in his law firm, I wonder what became of his staff, and how they felt about Columbo after Finch was arrested.

    I’ve seen a pattern here with the 4 killers played by McGoohan that was probably not intended: good killer/bad killer. Colonel Rumford is someone who builds up a mutual liking and respect with Columbo, as does Oscar Finch, but alternating with them are Nelson Brenner and Eric Prince, who both have a mutual dislike with Columbo.

     
  7. Just seen this episode again this morning. Finch must have had Staplin’s murder planned in advance, because he has what is surely an unregistered and untraceable gun in his office wall safe. A high profile lawyer might well keep a gun on the premises for legitimate security reasons, but it would be registered to him. The few seconds between him hanging up on Staplin and calling to his wife are him enjoying the last few moments of his old life and steeling himself for what needs to be done to ensure his future.

    And where was Paul Mackey really when Staplin was murdered? It can’t have been in a public place, so presumably he would have been asleep in bed with his wife at home. He’d either have to take her into his confidence, or lie to her about going out and returning home while she was asleep. Either way, Mrs Mackey should never be left alone with Oscar Finch.

     
  8. Whenever I watch this episode in recent years, I keep expecting Columbo to tell Finch that Staplin could not have handled the “Time Runs Out For Mr Lucky” newspaper clipping, as his fingerprints are only on one side, i.e. there should be at least one thumbprint on the back. But that’s another story . . .

     
      • I mentioned before about Staplin’s fingerprints only being on the front of the newspaper clipping, but only just realised they will be on both sides of the “Call that a lining?” fax document, so we can rule out the arthritis theory.

        And come to think of it, did Staplin take the same newspaper as Finch?
        If not, where did the clipping come from? If yes, where is Staplin’s undamaged copy? Or are there two identical clippings?

        Newspapers and clippings have been important clues before in “Lady In Waiting” and “Negative Reaction”. If it were his clipping, Staplin would probably have had his secretary clip it for him so neatly, but if Columbo had asked her she would not have known anything about it.

         
  9. I like that, even at this point in his career, the Lt can still be stunned once in a while. When he sees Mackey’s headlong rush to support Finch’s alibi, his amazement (if not surprise) is obvious. He was probably hoping Mackey wouldn’t be that stupid.

     
    • Good point. I’ve always wondered about the plausibility of the story, as why would any meeting between Finch and Mackey need to b a secret? Finch tells his wife about an anonymous “donor”, but there is no mention to Columbo of another person at the meeting.

      I think Columbo likes Mackey, and realising that he had nothing to do with the actual murder warns him not to perjure himself. He knows that Mackey will be finished politically, but he can avoid a prison sentence.

       
  10. This is the best of the second series and the best episode Patrick McGoohan was in or directed. I don’t see why the writer thought Columbo needed the gum. Dental records are enough, if, as he says, there are numerous identifying marks. I would have preferred Columbo remark on Finch’s nibbling early on. But, we can’t have everything, and I get a lot of enjoyment from this episode and from CP’s clever and thorough reviews. Good one!

     
    • I think Columbo wanted to check the bite mite evidence with the gum and cheese for himself , before going to the lengths of requisitioning someone’s private medical records. If it hadn’t been for that evidence, Finch would have got away with it scot free.

       
  11. What the heck . . . ???

    Just watching this episode on 5USA, but instead of going straight into “California Here I Come” there was a 58 second montage of intriguing scenes, including the word “MYSTERY” spelled out in large letters, Columbo, a black detective, and Burt Reynolds!

    I’m guessing that Agenda For Murder was made as part of a new Mystery Movie series in 1990, and that there was a generic opening sequence, like the one in the 1970’s, when Columbo alternated with McMillan & Wife and McCloud, but I have never seen this 1990 sequence in the UK before!

    Does anyone in the US know what the other two shows were? And will it be seen again when 5USA show this episode again at 9.00am next Sunday? I’ve also just realised that the Governor does know Mackey, but not Finch, and that Columbo probably is RC, as he is bothered by the use of the word “Jesus” as an oath.

     
  12. There have been some comments recently about the later episodes of Columbo becoming a self parody and having too much comedy. And about if some of Peter Falk’s later performances and story ideas were influenced by his sad decline in health.

    As far as I know, Peter was in good health right up until “Columbo Likes The Nightlife” in 2003, and his health did not decline until some time later. (I recall him becoming a little confused when he was being interviewed on UK TV about his book, “Just One More Thing”. The presenter, Paul O’Grady treated Peter with great respect and tact, and made sure he got a big round of applause, which he responded to happily).

    My thinking is that the changes were quite deliberate, as in 1989 Peter wanted to play Columbo as an older man, not too far off retirement, with at least another decade of experience since we last saw him in “The Conspirators”.

    In “Prescription: Murder” and “Ransom For a Dead Man” Columbo’s adversaries are his own age and eventually see through him, telling him that he overcompensates, using his appearance to deceive, and having a “shop-worn bag of tricks” with his fake innocent questions. He is able to add to this repertoire when he becomes an older man, his apparent absent mindedness becoming all the more convincing a disguise.

    This is seen to good effect in (my favourite “new” episode) “Columbo Goes To College” when he is respected by most of the students as a cop with many years of experience, but mocked by the arrogant young killers.

    When we first see him again in 1989 in “Columbo goes to the Guillotine”, he is a fatherly figure, having a chummy chat with a young cop about his new baby. By 2003, he is as sharp as ever, spotting clues at the crime scene that the younger cop has missed, but also seeming quite harmless (at least at first) to the young suspects, because he is so much older and out of touch with modern trends.

    In short: “Classic” Columbo and “New” Columbo are meant to be two different things, with one based on the events of the other, rather like the BBC’s revival of Doctor Who.

     
    • I haven’t seen Agenda for murder for months in fact I dont think it has been aired here in the UK this year even and I hope it surfaces soon as its a gem and my favourite mc goohan performance episode so i am reading the review from memory but its a very fgood and accurate review as always , I like mc goohan in Identity crisis and by dawns early light also
      Ashes to ashes often gets played on 5 USA But I am not a fan of that one in fact its one of my least favorite episodes from the new batch and I am, never too bothered if i miss it .

       
      • Agenda For Murder is on 5USA this Sunday (13th) at 14.55 and should be repeated the following Sunday morning. As for Ashes to Ashes, it does have a clever, but simple premise for the “perfect murder”.

         
        • Thanks , How Ironic I just piked up a TV guide this morning and noted it was on , Seems you got there before me , I am going to make it my business to watch it , Rest in peace Mrs columbo is also on which also ironically is next to be reviewed however if im honest I am not a great fan of that particular episode though i dont mind watching it whenever it comes my way also Butterfly in shades of grey is on which again i dont mind watching but I dont consider it among the best of the New episodes , both of these haven’t been on for ages on 5 USA in all not a bad line up for this Sunday.

           
          • You’re welcome. I might try to catch all of these episodes, if not this week then next Sunday, as 5 USA have this handy scheduling of repeating the last few episodes of their 12 hour Sunday Columbo marathons the following Sunday morning.

            BTW, I don’t bother with TV guides anymore, as the programme guide on my Freeview digital receiver tells me what’s on in a week’s time. Tomorrow I will be able to confirm if Agenda For Murder is on again the following Sunday, rather than waiting for the guides to come out on Tuesday. (I daresay that schedules for programmes on the new fangled movie wireless can be checked on the interweb as well).

             
            • Update: My programme guide confirms that Agenda For Murder is on 5USA today at 2.55pm and again on Sunday 20th at 9.00am.
              No need to wait for Quick, What’s On TV? to come out on Tuesday.

               
              • Thank you , Agenda for Murder is a episode that you could re watch many times and enjoy it just as much I hadn’t seen it in full for about 2 years before last Sunday and I really enjoyed it , I think the start of the episode where finch is tampering with the murder weapon with the tin foil there is a background noise/sound effect of cracks of thunder and lightning which I thought was very well done ( this was also done in the end scene of the bye bye sky high IQ murder (1976) which also explained the shower of rain that contributed to the case against finch.

                If there are any more examples of thunder Lightning or rainfall effects used in any episode whether or not relevant to the case please share , I will watch Agenda Sunday morning and im betting I will enjoy it just as much as ever.

                on reflection for me this is surely the best of mc goohans roles in his 4 outings ahead of By dawns early light in second narrowly ahead of
                Identity crisis in 3rd ( which is an episode i rate highly and enjoy a lot )
                and Ashes to ashes in 4th which i am not a big fan of .

                 
                • You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoy it again over breakfast next Sunday.

                  I’m assuming that this next broadcast of Agenda For Murder will also include the never seen in the UK before (at least not by me) “Mystery” intro that they used last Sunday. It’s similar in intent to the “man with a torch” intro they used on the original “Sunday Mystery Movie” episodes in the 1970’s. We never see those “Tonight, starring Peter Falk as Columbo” intros anymore, just the image of him smiling behind the closing credits.

                  I enjoyed all of the Sunday Mystery Movies (McCloud, McMillan & Wife, etc) when they first aired in the 1970’s but the one we all waited for was Columbo about once a month, so It’s no wonder they are still being shown today. Wasn’t there a less successful Wednesday Mystery Movie too?.

                  I think the first dozen or so “new” Columbo’s were part of a new mystery wheel series , with the remainder being one off specials?

                   
  13. Excellent review which summed it up well. This was a solid episode. I have two beside the issues comments. It is interesting that Finch and the Congressman were pretty obviously Democrats, in my judgment. The US being sold to Japan was a 1980’s Democratic fetish. And how retro was the campaign music. Happy Days Are Here Again, When the Saints Go Marching In, California, Here I Come, and even Bye, Bye, Blackbird! Was this a 1990’s campaign or one from the 1920’s?
    On the murder issues themselves, the bite stuff was clever, but I really have a hard time believing one could pinpoint a murderer off the bite marks on a piece of cheese. But still a fun show all the way.

     
    • As I understand it, bite mark evidence was considered a major breakthrough in 1990. That’s a genuine magazine that Columbo produces at the end, containing an article that Peter Falk had read and wanted to include in an episode.

      As to which party Finch, Mackey and the Governor belong to, I don’t doubt what you say (there was a Republican in the White House at the time and they seen opposed to Government policy) but I think a case could be made for them being Republicans instead of Democrats, as I think the intention was to keep this deliberately vague. Perhaps the “traditional” retro music suggests Republicans?

      The BBC comedy Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister always tried to be vague about which party was in power and which in opposition, a too obviously left wing character being written out after a few episodes.

       
      • My problem with the bite mark is the cheese. I love cheeses and the ones I eat are too crumbly to make it plausible to isolate one person as the necessary source of the bite. A different material, perhaps. I can believe if someone bit a person and left a bite mark on skin. But not cheese, cake, a cookie, etc. Columbo said it was just like fingerprints, which I find really hard to buy. Just my reaction, but I accept it for use in the show.
        As for the music, Happy Days Are Here Again is/was the long time anthem of the Democratic party. And having lived through the era, it was the Democrats who made an issue of the Japanese buying hotels and the like in the US. Like many issues, it came and went. Shipping jobs overseas is another matter. Anyway, other than the cheese, these are tangent issues. I liked this episode a lot.

         
        • Thanks for your response NB. I accept that you know a lot more about US politics of the time, and the inference is that Finch, Mackey and the Governor are Democrats, without it being stated outright. (Come to think of it, in 1990 the Republicans had been in the White House for 10 years, and the incumbent was up for re-election in 1992, so they would not have been looking for a new candidate until at least 1994?). The Governor seems to be a decent man (who knows nothing about the murder) but his presidential hopes were probably dashed due to his poor choice of running mate in Mackey (who he had never met before).

          As to the cheese though, well there are many different kinds and some would be better able to retain bite marks than others. Columbo himself goes to great pains to point out what sort of cheese is on Staplin’s desk, and I am assuming that Peter Falk himself chose it as being best able to make the bite mark evidence as plausible as possible.

           
          • dear columbofriends,
            The cheese in this episode is not just cheese; it’s a world famous cheese from the Parma-region in Italy. If not too old and too crumbly (and it isn’t, cause we see Columbo easily cutting a part of it), it has excellent proporties for showing teeth-characteristics.
            We also should remember Columbo is not trying to persuade a jury, but a murderer. In a court, the cheese might be of too small evidence.

             
          • Just seen this on 5USA, If colours have any political significance, at the rally the people are wearing white has with “Montgomery For President” in blue. And Oscar Finch is wearing a red tie. And I was wrong earlier, as it looks like the Governor does know Mackey, but not Finch.

             
  14. “The first one’s Jewish. The second one’s Irish. I hope they won’t offend you.”

    “Maybe the Irish. “

    Lol!

     
    • exactly. It’s a great scene as written but given resonance by the fact that it’s a Jewish actor asking an Irish actor whether he wants to hear a Jewish or Irish joke.

       
      • I hadn’t thought of that. I have to remind myself every so often that Peter Falk wasn’t actually Italian. Come to think of it, Columbo was probably a roman catholic, but I don’t think it’s ever relevant in a story. I still think it’s a cop out that we are told Staplin had two “Good jokes!”, but we never get to hear the Irish one.

         
  15. It’s a sad thought, but I wonder how much of the decline in the new Colombo series was due to Peter Falk’s developing Alzheimer’s. I’ve even read that at the end, Peter did not know who “Colombo” was. This disease is progressive, and somewhat sporadic, so Peter might have had good days and bad days. But in some of the scenes in the new series, the character exhibits some very un-Colombo like behavior. Is this poor writing, bad editing, inept directing, or simply Peter losing his vision of how the character should behave? Does anyone have a timeline or an opinion on this?

     
    • I don’t think Falk’s Alzheimer’s had any impact on the show itself. Even in the early 2000s he was fully compos mentis. Faults are mainly to do with direction, writing, production and quality of acting.

       
    • I don’t think his Alzheimer’s had really become a problem until after the final 2003 episode, “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, in which Falk presented as business like and serious a Columbo not seen that much since the mid-1970s.

       
      • Yes, I saw “Columbo Likes The Nightlife” a couple of weeks ago and it’s better than I remembered, a good police procedural. Lt Columbo is sharp and very much on the ball, so I assume that Peter Falk was too. I think Columbophile mentioned a while back that Peter was hoping to make a final 70th Columbo movie, but it didn’t happen due to a lack of interest by the broadcasters, rather than his failing health.

         
  16. The main problem with “Agenda” is the over-obvious “cheese bite”. As is often the case with Columbo , the plot device has probably been stolen/ borrowed from the 1930/40’s (eg Cornell Woolrich, Earle Stanley Gardner, etc). I don’t have a problem with that, since we don’t really watch Columbo for the originality of the plots so much as the witty dialogue, characterisation and superb style. Unfortunately, because the “new” Columbos were somewhat dumbed down, the whole episode is marred by the prolonged camera panning of the cheese bite – so the entire denouement becomes instantly obvious at that point.

     
    • Personally I cringe when I see McGoohan in his Steinmetz-like guise. Colombo’s hair-ugh. The timing is so off in the new wave of episodes. Can’t watch them. On the other hand I can watch the original series over and over.

       
    • Cinderella: The shoe fits.
      Star Trek: The Search For Spock. They find him.
      Jesus Christ: Superstar: He dies at the end.

      As with any Columbo clue, the cheese is right there in plain sight for the viewer to spot., but I don’t think it’s all that obvious. We have seen Finch snacking before, and when he puts the cheese back on the plate I think he intends to finish it , but instead he hurries away when the fax machine beeps. It’s not as if the camera lingers on the plate of cheese for 5 seconds after he’s gone, with an accompanying crash of thunder.

       
    • My issues with the Cheese Gotcha are well-documented through these blog comments, but I’ll just add, uh, one more thing. When Finch puts the cheese back on the plate after the bite, director McGoohan masks its significance because at the same moment, we see Finch setting the murder weapon next to the cheese plate so he can start fixing the “suicide” scene. Then, Finch takes the gun off the table and finishes up his task. Our natural attention is drawn not to the cheese being replaced, but to the gun. It’s a fairly effective diversion, so we don’t all jump up and yell “He left behind his cheese!” at the TV screen.

       
  17. Another great review. I usually hate political intrigue, but Columbos always make it interesting. Finch is a funny character, but I prefer his funeral director in Ashes and military schoolmarm in Dawn’s Early Light.
    Finch peels off from Columbo not once but twice, reminiscent of Bo or Luke Duke.
    I don’t think it’s a stretch at all that Columbo goes to the cleaners; he is always investigating people’s clothing items.
    – Mrs Donner folded hers before her fatal jump in Deadly
    -When his boss failed to redress the neighbor lady in her prepared nightgown; Friend
    -his boss’s wife wearing an outfit with a torn sleeve to her honors banquet; Friend
    -the gym clothes/shoes in Exercise
    – the mohair sweater that Ward is caught on in Fade in
    -Kay Freestone having an outfit delivered? from the cleaners to the victim’s home.
    -visited the Candidate’s tailor to find out more about his new tan camelhair jacket
    -the clothes in Sex and the Married Detective

    I am sure there’s more but my point is that Columbo has a nose for clues and clothes. People wear them, stuff gets on/comes off them, they have to be bought/cleaned/accounted for and he will do it. No surprise there.

     
    • Good point. I think this was established in Prescription: Moider, when Columbo is around as Mrs Fleming’s dry cleaning is delivered to Ray Fleming’s apartment.

       
  18. Am I right in remembering that the cheese evidence is referenced by the lieutenant when he does his lecture in Columbo Goes to College?

    If so, I wonder if that was put in by the writer on the suggestion of Falk as by the sound of it, it was a gotcha that he particularly liked….

     
    • Yes, it’s part of an evasive answer Columbo gives when a student asks if he has ever planted evidence. (A better answer might have been the case in “Negative Reaction”, but I guess they wanted something that viewers in 1990 would have seen recently).

      And as I recall, Peter Falk once said that when he triumphantly produces the magazine with the bite mark evidence article, that’s not Columbo, it’s Peter Falk in a raincoat, happily telling us about this new development in crime detection that he’s read about.

       
      • One of my biggest Columbo wishes is that he’d referenced one of his classic cases in Columbo Goes to College. Just a name drop of Franklin, Hayward or Mitchell would have been GOLD!

         
        • Maybe that’s what he’s doing when he gets the big laugh and round of applause during the murder. Like the unheard Irish joke in Agenda For Murder, it’s another example of the writer telling us that something is funny, without actually having to think anything up.

           
        • He does mention one in ‘…College’. One of the students asks about whether “the Devlin case” – presumably referring to ‘The Conspirators’ – was the only time he worked with the FBI and the good Lieutenant replies that he doesn’t remember that case.

          Is that close enough…?

           
            • Yes, I think this is a different “Devlin case”, possibly from the missing years? (Like the one referenced in Rest In Peace Mrs Columbo). But doesn’t Columbo work with the FBI in Ransom For A Dead Man?

               
    • One of the best.Patrick McGoohan had a big successful presence in acting and directing in Columbo.You cannot beat Peter Falk.All Columbo’s episodes had fantastic casts.Congratulations to every one involved in making this the best detective series EVER!!

       
  19. The first genuinely good episode of the new series, IMO. Some strong similarities to ‘Candidate for Crime’ in the setting and characters, but not enough to make it feel
    Iike a retread. The only things letting it down are the padding and a rather weak gotcha.

     
  20. Nicely done, Columbophile! An enjoyable review worthy of Patrick McGoohan’s contribution to what I consider the firm #2 episode in the “new era,” following only “Columbo Goes to College”, an episode I prefer to even “How to Dial a Murder” from the classic era. (And, of course, “Commodore”.) I’m pleased that you mentioned the annoyance of Columbo sniffing like a dog while the cheese sits right before his eyes. Likewise his marveling at the seeming wonders of a fax machine. This is the same Columbo who spoke to Leslie Williams about how one can order tickets over the phone via computer, then nineteen years later is flummoxed by a fax machine. And while I like the idea of bite-mark evidence (I never knew it’s taken credibility hits over the years) I always bristled at the use of it here. One bites cheese with the incisors, while using the molars to chew gum. Different impressions. Anyway, this is a fun, easy-to-revisit episode.

     
  21. A solid episode.
    I’m sure this could be researched, but does anybody know which episode produces the most shared “screen time” between Columbo and the villain? I think this one would be near the top of such a list. I would imagine it would have to be one which had to fill a 2-hour t.v. time-slot.
    Thoughts?
    One thing too convenient for me: I knew the nibbled cheese left behind by Finch would come back to bit him (no pun intended) in the end.
    Looking forward to the next episode review; as I really liked the “different style” of RIP Mrs. Columbo. It was one of only about three or four episodes to make me say “wow, I didn’t see that coming!”

     
    • Fade into murder and candidate for crime from the seventies run could have the most screen time
      Between columbo and killer although im not certain cp may know the official awnser to this .

       
      • It’s a good question, but I suspect there is no definitive answer, with many episodes tying for first place. If there is an overall winner, I think it would be by seconds. My complete guess would be Etude In Black, if only because Peter Falk and John Cassavetes were close friends, and Cassavetes has the exasperated line “My friend, enough!”

         
    • I think the question is not just how much screen time they’ve shared, but how often Columbo meets up with the killer. They could share a lot of screen time over a minimal number of meets, but if Columbo is “running into” the killer on multiple occasions, even with short meet times, that’s a sign that Columbo is deliberately bugging his antagonist by constantly bumping into him/her. It also helps when Columbo finds the killer at various different locations, as if the lieutenant is “following” the killer around his daily routine. (Its a minor gripe that I have with Playback, as the writer doesn’t vary where Columbo finds and needles Van Wick). Best are times when Columbo crashes parties, workspaces, intimate lunches, testimonials, funerals, etc.

      Just so you know, I’ve counted these things, and Columbo generally runs into the killer, counting first-meet and the Gotcha, about 4-6 times over the course of an episode (70s). I will say that when the number of meets is low, the length of the meets seems a bit higher (one meet might extend to more than one location, so Columbo seems to be “travelling” with his mark). I believe that “Agenda For Murder” has 6 overall meets, with extended time at the election party.

      The formula: More meets = more aggravation. That’s just plain science!

       
      • Great replies!
        Yes, I think “Candidate for Crime” would be way up there on the shared screen-time list. (Even though it was a 70s episode, I seem to remember it being a longer episode. The scene in his office was 12 minutes long! “Fade” and “Etude,” yes, are great examples. Probably more so “Etude.”

        @Glenn….I like your analysis on how many times Columbo meets up with the killer. I often try to count, but always lose track! Plus, while watching the show on TV, commercials often distort the true number. A few transition scenes are often deleted. Your science makes sense! Off the top of my head, I recall “Uneasy Lies the Crown” as an episode where Columbo has many scenes with the dentist/killer…even though Columbo doesn’t make an appearance until maybe 20-25 minutes in.
        Does anybody know the absolute LATEST into an episode where we finally see Columbo? (I love statistics like these!)

         
          • CP….not to be a stickler, but Death Hits the Jackpot was on tv tonight. Columbo isn’t seen on screen until 32 minutes and 27 seconds have passed. (His voice is heard about five seconds earlier talking about the chimp)
            Yes, I timed it.
            Even longer than you thought!

             
              • Maybe there are two versions of Death Hits The Jackpot, one with teaser scenes at the start and one that goes straight into the story?

                 
                • Amazing. I went back and watched the beginning of Prescription: Murder tonight, too.
                  Columbo makes his first appearance 32 minutes and 21 seconds into the episode, as we see him standing in the bedroom doorway. That’s just six seconds short of his 32:27 into Death Hits the Jackpot.
                  However, Columbo doesn’t say his first words “Dr Flemming?” until about 10 seconds afterwards.
                  So, the official answer is: the latest we go without SEEING the detective is in Death Hits the Jackpot, but the latest we go without hearing the detective is in Prescription: Murder.

                   
                  • It makes sense that Columbo appears so late in Prescription Murder, since this is intended as a stand alone story, with the actor playing Dr Ray Flemming being the main attraction (although Peter Falk does get top billing in the TV movie version).

                    But why does it take so long for him to appear in Death Hits The Jackpot? Do the runners up have him appear around the 25th to 30th minute?

                    And which is his earliest appearance? I would guess Troubled Waters, with Candidate For Crime and A Case Of Immunity coming in second and third.

                     
                    • It takes so long for Columbo to appear in Death Hits the Jackpot because: 1- Freddy goes over to his see his “wife” to dicsuss divorce papers and we see him win the tv lottery. 2- He goes to visit his Uncle Leon on the jewelry store, 3- Freddy and Leon go for a walk to discuss their lottery switch, 4- Freddy and friends watch on tv as Leon gets his big, cardboard check, 5- Leon and his wife discuss having a theme party for Halloween, 6- Leon turns down lots of offers from local businesses and charities, 7- Leon leaves his house mid-party and goes to Freddy’s place to commit the murder and tamper with the crime scene, 8- Leon returns home and establishes his fake alibi for being at the party all along.
                      As far as what other episodes is Columbo “very late” in making his first appearance…I’ll go back and officially time a few I think would be “very late.” I have a few in mind, and they are all from the “new” episodes. (Besides Prescription: Murder, I think)
                      At the other end, another episode where Columbo appears very early, is the one where he attends the wedding of his nephew…as the formula changed for this episode.

                       
                    • Thanks for your analysis. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this episode, but I see what you mean. At the start of the episode, Leon has no reason to kill his nephew and it needs must takes a while for the situation leading to the murder (and it’s solution) to be set up. In a lot of episodes, the killer is already preparing the murder at the start of the story. Come to think of it, this episode probably has one of the most brutal murders by Columbo standards, certainly when compared to the similar method used in A Friend In Deed.

                       
                    • You’re quite right, I’d forgotten that one. I think it was thrown in as a surprise for the audience. In Troubled Waters they needed to establish right away that Columbo was a passenger on the cruise ship. And in Candidate For Crime and A Case Of Immunity they established he was already on “guard duty” even before the murders occur (albeit by accident in the second case). But in Make Me A Perfect Murder his whiplash accident has nothing to do with the murder or solving it directly, it just helps him establish a rapport with the murderer. Other episodes where perhaps he should appear earlier are Dagger Of The Mind and A Matter Of Honour, but they way they did it worked out just fine.

                       
      • I think it’s deliberate in Playback that Columbo only needles Van Wick at his home, because that’s where he committed the murder, due to being in total control if his environment. Mrs Van Wick is never allowed to leave her home, so Columbo has to go there to see her, which further needles Mr Van Wick. Columbo does go to the art gallery and the electronics company, but Van Wick doesn’t need to be there.

         
          • I like Marcy, the super English girl at the art gallery, especially as the actress Trisha Noble is actually Australian.

            I fell in love with her in 1969 at the age of 10 when I was taken to see Carry On Camping, and she made a brief but impressive appearance at the start of the film.

             
  22. Ah, we get to my favorite (by far) episode of the Second Coming… or Columbo 2.0, however you want to call it. I like it mostly because of Patrick McGoohan. His vocabulary and delivery is just a hoot throughout. “Happy or sad, Frank, you can’t prooove a damn thing!” “What o’clock do you have?”

    I thought the whole scene with Finch and Staplin was really well directed and well played. I did think that Columbo munching on a hunk of cheese at the scene of a crime was a bit unrealistic. Also, the whole Finch-likes-to-nibble-on-things, even if essential to the gotcha, was a bit contrived. In answer to Richard Weill’s reasonable objection to the spur-of-the-moment murder plot, I always thought the fact that Finch had a newspaper clipping of “Mr. Lucky” Staplin handy was evidence that he had been planning something for awhile.

    Overall, it’s just enjoyable to watch. Isn’t that the point?

     
    • I don’t think there can be any doubt that Finch concocted the Murder plot well in advance of Staplin’s phone call. Staplin’s latest run-in with the law was well known, so Finch was very likely expecting Staplin to attempt to secure his assistance and to threaten to expose their past dealings. His plan was too intricate to have been cooked up on the spot.

       
      • I agree. It had to have been percolating as at least a contingency should Staplin become desperate. I would have to think that Finch had several “in case of fire break glass” schemes well thought-out should certain situations arise.

         
    • It would have been so easy to fix. The Finch-Mackey elevator ride down after the meeting with the Governor? Mackey: “Any more calls from you-know-who?” Finch: “All under control.” Mackey: “And if it isn’t?” Finch: “Then it will be.” Job done.

       
      • But that would have made Mackey an accessory before the fact and changed the structure of the episode. Mackey is basically a decent (but weak) man who is relieved at what he genuinely believes is Staplin’s suicide, which Finch les to him about for half the episode. It’s only when his fake alibi starts to crumble that Finch reluctantly brings a reluctant Mackey into his scheme. If Mackey had been in on it from the start, they might just have got away with it.

        And yes, the “Mr Lucky” newspaper clipping was held in reserve in case Staplin wouldn’t leave well enough alone. As to the “One bite of cheese”, Finch is celebrating his relief and victory over Staplin by finally taking advantage of his hospitality. Finch is an arrogant man who doesn’t know about the new developments in bite mark evidence. As far as he is concerned, it would just look like Staplin had bitten into it.

         
        • Finch is a hotshot defense lawyer who created an intricate suicide frame (one that was not broken by Columbo, it needs to be emphasized), and a detailed spontaneous physiological explanation for how the gun could have lingered on Staplin’s finger before it fell onto dried blood. He didn’t know about bite-mark evidence that was just now making its way into a police magazine? Sorry, not credible or consistent with the character. As I noted in my comments below, it would have been more exciting to see old-school Columbo find a fatal flaw in Finch’s suicide scenario. That would have knocked Finch down a few pegs (**audience cheer, Dale Kingston-style**) and also highlighted Columbo’s own brilliance. As it is, the bite-mark evidence could have been uncovered by McGruff the Crimedog.

           
          • I, too, feel sure Finch was legally aware of bite-mark evidence. However, the way he’s portrayed as a serial nibble throughout means he probably nibbled the cheese unconsciously and never gave it another thought. That’s the only reasonable explanation for such an oversight from an otherwise great criminal mind.

             
              • I haven’t seen this in a while, but does Finch get distracted by the fax machine halfway through nibbling the cheese?

                 
                • Nope, no distractions (well, beyond killing someone in cold blood with an elaborately detailed suicide frame-up). I get the “serial nibbler” theory to explain away Finch’s miscue, but my gripe is that its selectively applied to the episode. As I noted below, the audience sees it early on. But Finch meets Columbo 4 times (with some lengthy meets included) and he doesn’t do his presumably obsessive munching habit. Its not until the 5th meeting with Columbo where it happens. That’s when the episode goes into the homestretch.

                   
                  • OK, I’ve just watched this scene to refresh my memory. Finch is nibbling at the cheese while talking to Staplin, then puts it back on the plate after he has shot him. (I mistakenly thought earlier that he didn’t start on the cheese until after he shot Staplin).

                    He then sets up the phony clues with the powder burns and the gun falling from Staplin’s hand, and as he is tidying up the desk the fax machine beeps (I like the close up on his eyes as he reacts to this). It is then that he hastily finishes what he is doing, puts on his topcoat and leaves. (We know that his trunk is empty except for a spare tyre).

                    Perhaps he intended to finish the cheese before leaving, but not being aware of it’s significance, he just left in a hurry, assuming that the police would think Staplin had bitten into it. Come to think of it, cheese is probably good at retaining fingerprints.

                    And nowadays with DNA testing the bite mark evidence would probably be secondary anyway?

                     
                    • Actually I think even in 1990 DNA from saliva on the cheese would have been the obvious route for the investigators to go not the bite mark. If I am not mistaken it’s use was already more or less common by that time (Green River killer Gary Ridgway was famously brought down by the DNA sample collected from him in late 80’s). Probably bite mark had been chosen as the final clue precisely because of the notorious Bundy case Columbo mentioned (Bundy was executed with a lot of media circus a year before the episode aired)

                       
                    • I actually watched this episode after getting over the quasi Steinmetz look of Oscar Finch and it wasn’t as bad as I thought, compared to Murder in Malibu is unwatchable. Are any of the “new” episodes on a par with Agenda?

                       
                    • On a par with Agenda For Murder? It’s just my opinion, but I would say that Columbo Goes to College is the best of the “new” episodes, and (if you don’t mind the Steinmetz look) Ashes to Ashes, the last episode that McGoohan both directed and guest starred in.

                       
                    • thanks to your suggestions, I’m watching Columbo Goes to College. Love it when Robert Culp says that Cooper wants to be a tennis pro. Shades of I Spy!!! I don’t hate this episode. The two boys are wonderfully portrayed as psychopaths. Missing Vito Scotti though. And I wonder what happened to the cast of characters rounded up for these episdoes, do they show up any where else?

                       
                    • Glad you enjoyed it. I totally missed the “I Spy” reference, which I hope was intentional.

                      BTW, I saw “Columbo Likes The Nightlife” yesterday as it happened to be on 5USA.
                      I thought I didn’t like this episode, but it’s much better than I remember.

                      (Spoiler Alert!) It’s probably the most brutal murder in all of Columbo, having more in common with “Prescription Murder” than say “Suitable For Framing”. And there is a nice little scene at the end, for what turned out to be the final episode.

                       
                    • Thanks I have to keep reminding myself that 1990 is THIRTY years ago! (30 years? That’s during World War 2 isn’t it?) So I am never sure if something we take for granted now, such as DNA testing, was around way back then. Fax machines? I get blank looks when I mention Telex to anyone born after 1990.

                       
  23. A good review. I am like you, i don’t think highly of the revival. I think it was far too jokey and just wasn’t up to the standards of the original run. I hate feeling that way because when it was announced to be returning, and I think the success of Perry Mason Movies on NBC was the impetus for it, I was excited. I wasn’t happy it was on ABC because NBC IS the home of Columbo and I didn’t think ABC would do the show justice, still… I didn’t expect to dislike it as much as I did. I have all the new era episodes on DVD but I don’t watch them. They just aren’t up to snuff. Patrick McGoohan was a great villain. Jack Cassidy is the king.

     
  24. I am a huge fan of the original series and cannot watch the next set. I tried watching Murder in Malibu today. Omg The pacing is so off, the same idiotic hardboiled egg …impossible. I just can’t watch them

     
      • Murder In Malibu is an affront to the Columbo series. It is amazing that they released that episode, but though the original series is much better than the 2nd run, there are some very enjoyable episodes to watch in the later year shows.

         
    • Pearl, the new series is way too jokey. Too much comedy. And the music is also strange and overemphasized.

       
        • As this is the newest thread, and we are talking about comedy, I saw the 1964 movie
          “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” on BBC2 yesterday. Peter Falk turns up in the last 45 minutes. I enjoyed it, but the only bit that made me laugh out loud was when cab driver Peter Falk says to police captain Spencer Tracy “You’re the most comical cop I ever met.”

           
        • Answering your ‘better episodes’ question. I actually don’t dismiss the entire series like others some others do

          Superior to this episode are ‘It’s All in the Game’, ‘Butterfly in Shades of Gray’ (a far better episode than the one Shatner guested in previously) and ‘Columbo Cries Wolf’ (for me an episode that embraces the 90’s as opposed trying to still be in the 70’s)

          ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous For Your Health’ (again I prefer this second guest episode (Hamilton) to the 70’s one)

          All these are what I would call above average 70’s episodes – with the two I first mentioned, actually been in my Top 20. “Game”, is in my Top 10

          Others that are half decent (but below average compared to the 70’s) are ‘Sex and the Married Detective’, ‘A Bird in The Hand’, ‘Uneasy Lies The Crown’ (actually very loosely based on an Ed McBain book and far better than the other two that does this!!) ‘Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star’ and the very last episode ‘Columbo Loves The Nightlife’, which has a very good modern setting an excellent first 30 minutes – but does tail off somewhat

          The others are simply poor episodes by Columbo standards (never understand what some like about ‘Columbo Goes To College’ when the killers have absolutely nothing to like about them, with zero charisma) or simply very bad TV (hello! ‘Murder with Too Many Notes’)

          Overall they ‘new’ episodes, taken as a whole are not as bad as portrayed – at least half are better than say ‘Mind over Mayhem’. A bit like music by Prince after ‘Lovesexy’ – it’s not all bad by any means

          I’m sure others will disagree – which of course it was this forum is for!!

           
          • I agree with most of your comments, but Columbo Goes to College is my favourite of the “new” episodes, precisely because the killers are so unlikeable. “Who do these jerks think they are?”.

            (Spoiler Alert!). I think they do have charisma, which they use to appear to be “pretty decent guys”. They are also so arrogant, that you really want to see Columbo take these guys down. (The episode is not anti youth, as the other students are genuinely nice kids who respect Columbo).

            Where this episode differs from most is that there is no verbal sparring between Columbo and a killer who knows that he’s on to them. It’s because they are so young and naïve (and think that they know everything) that they are totally taken in by Columbo’s “dumb cop” routine. They never suspect that he’s been on to them since the first night, due not only to “luck”, but also to good, solid police work by him and his men.

            There is however no such excuse for the arrogance of the Robert Culp character, who’s a prize jerk and really ought to know who he’s dealing with. (My only gripe with this episode is that we don’t get to see the smug look wiped off his face when Columbo solves the case).

            I also like the magnificent houses that the victim’s wife and mistress live in – excellent locations. And this is the only episode where someone does a Columbo impression, and a good one at that!

             
            • I might take a peek at the episodes just to see how the actors look after all that time. Shatner is a bigger ham than ever for example.

               
              • Shatner’s at his brilliant hammy pompous best, but actually suits the role he plays

                He also has one of the best comedy mustaches ever seen on TV!!

                 
                  • But there were plenty like that in the 70’s. I found ‘Fade Into Murder Terrible’ – it’s as though a bunch of thesps took over and were determined to give us a bad stage play on TV

                    I think there can be rose tinted views about a fair few episodes from then

                     
                    • I wouldnt go as far as to say fade in to murder was terrible ,but its very silly and I find william shatner / Ward fowlers charachter rather annoying and the end a bit flat so it sits a fair ways down in my seventies ranking

                       
                    • I think if ‘Fade into Murder’ had been released 20 years later, we’d all have been using it as an example as to what is wrong with the ‘new’ episodes

                      For the problem is that the new episodes started off so badly – the first two episodes were so disappointing compared to the old ones, inevitably we all have a ‘glass half empty’ approach to most of them

                       
                    • Maybe it’s just because I’m a Star Trek fan, but I love Fade In To Murder (not only do we get William Shatner, but Walter Koenig too)!. I think the way to approach this is as a send up. As with Mrs Peck’s soaps in Double Shock, “Detective Lucerne” is a send up of most other TV cop shows, the most likely influence being Burke’s Law (which starred Gene Barry). And Shatner is surely sending himself up as the handsome star of popular TV show? (I like the subtle gag of Fowler having a life size publicity photo of himself on his bedroom wall). And although Lt Columbo is humble and underpaid, it’s also sending up the highly paid TV cop actor, Peter Falk! It’s not an out and out comedy, but there is a lot of subtle humour at the expense of the two leads that I think can be appreciated if you look at it as being a little bit different from other episodes. If nothing else, it means that Last Salute to the Commodore was not the final Columbo . . .

                       
                    • Just seen Butterfly In Shades Of Grey. Is it deliberate that in this and in Fade In To Murder, the William Shatner characters both wear a disguise, shoot their victims in the back, plant a clue involving TV actor’s make up, use expensive modern technology to establish an alibi, and have a large photo of themselves on display?

                       
                • Butterfly In Shades Of Gray is my favorite later years episode, and yes better than Shatners 70’s episode. Fielding Chase was a hilarious character and it was a very fun episode, and in the end that’s what really matters.

                   
                  • As we’ve jumped ahead to “Butterfly In Shades of Grey”, I was impressed that it took me years to realise Fielding Chase’s oppressed step daughter is the same actress (Molly Hagen) that played the glamourous young movie star in “Murder, Smoke and Shadows”. And I have always been puzzled by the nice lady at the radio station who has to walk with the aid of a stick. It doesn’t have anything to do with the story, so did the actress have to use a stick in real life?

                     
                    • Butterfly In Shades Of Grey just happens to be on 5USA right now, and should be repeated next Sunday morning. I’m going to look out for the lady with the walking stick.

                       
                    • I just did some quick IMDB and Wikipedia research on the actress in Butterfly In Shades Of Grey that uses a walking stick, and I’m glad I did.

                      The character, Marian Burke was played by actress Christopher Anne Templeton (named after Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh) who sadly passed away in 2011 at the age of 58..

                      She contracted polio when she was only six months old, leaving her with a permanent limp and had to walk with a cane her whole life. Despite this, she became a successful actress (being best known for The Young and The Restless) as well as a writer and director.

                      I owe this lady an apology, as I had always assumed that she had just twisted her ankle shortly before filming and they decided to go ahead rather than recast the role. After all, if a character in a detective story has a limp, it must have something to do with the solution, right?

                      But there is no reason at all that a person with a disability shouldn’t appear on a show like Columbo, as a character with a disability that doesn’t affect their ability to do their job, and therefore it does not even need to be mentioned in the story.

                       
            • Due to the respect I have for you and our fellow Columbofanatics, I’m going to watch it again in my next round or re-watching

              I’ve dismissed it to such a degree (admittedly wrongly seeing it as bad as ‘Undercover’!!) that I haven’t watched it for about ten years

               
              • Thanks, I appreciate that. I think you just have to look at the killers and their relationship with Columbo in a different way to most other episodes.

                 
            • I fully concur. “College” is my easy favorite of the 1989-2003 episodes, and I’d watch it over “Commodore” (of course), “How to Dial a Murder”, and even the solid-yet-tepid “Forgotten Lady.” It’s a testament to Culp that after playing three d-bag killers, his most obnoxious and offputting character was in a supporting role. As with all the later episodes there are elements from which to roll one’s eyes, but at least in “College” they’re held to a minimum. I’d imagine that Culp’s Jordan Rowe would have a similar attitude to Justin, in that getting Justin off would be a matter of prevailing out of contempt for anything resembling losing. I can even imagine Culp’s Jordan going to the extreme of falling on his sword by asserting that his pressure placed upon Justin to succeed was what drove Justin to murder. Cooper won’t have such support. In fact, it’s easy to speculate that Justin would turn on Cooper to achieve a better outcome.

               
              • Yes, I would love to know what happened next to all the characters involved in the “College” case. I can see Jordan doing his utmost to get Justin cleared, due to his own reputation being on the line, but I can’t see him taking the blame for anything.
                And what about Mrs Rowe? She’s a silly woman, but seems utterly blameless . . .
                Best to leave these musings for the official Columbophile review!

                 
  25. Agenda For Murder contains one of my favourite ever Columbo lines. It’s when the Lieutenant intends to tell Finch, the Jewish and the Irish rib ticklers.

    “He killed himself between jokes…”

     
  26. A very solid later years episode, but i do agree with Acilius that it was drawn out a little with some needless padding. There are several later years episodes that may not have been written or directed as well, but i enjoy them better than this one. I do think this is more of a 70’s (ish) type episode than the others so far. The one thing that really bothered me though is why would someone so intelligent leave a half bitten piece of cheese at a crime scene?

     
  27. A fine episode that could have been great if it had been made to fit a 90 minute timeslot rather than a two hour one. The dry cleaning storyline and other bits of padding you mention drag it down by themselves, as does the appallingly unprofessional moment when Columbo eats a piece of the cheese at the crime scene. But even some of the good moments would have been well sacrificed to keep the story moving at a faster clip.

    The dated elements didn’t bother me so much- that Finch would give up in the face of bite mark evidence is credible in the context of the early 90s, and Mackey’s nationalistic politics would have put him close to the mainstream of both major US parties then. Nor does the weight placed on conventional police procedural elements bother me. Though in a faster paced episode, those things may not have been noticeable enough to trouble the people who do object to them.

     
    • Nice to see a fresh review and a very memorable one at that , this is definetly one of the best new ones and rightly pips cries wolf to the current post just about and theres so much fake laughter and sarcasm wich really makes this live long in the memory but all this said i dont think the gotcha is among the elite , which dams this episode a tad, mainly because any murderer paticulary a top us barrister wouldnt be nibbling at lumps of cheese and leaving them there in plain sight during a murder , pubs here in th uk lay out cheese , cocktail sausages pork pies crisps etc but we hadnt just murdered a politician so it was okay and this over the years has grown on me and taken the edge of the episode

      I prefer death hits the jackpot because the chimps fingerprint was more inanverdantly done and very unknowinklgy by the murdrrer and makes the gotcha better overall but agenda is definetly best new one reviewed so far .

       
  28. I’ve always had one major problem with “Agenda for Murder.” Unfortunately, it overshadows my overall take because it happens so early in the episode. A story’s beginning is where maintaining credibility is especially important.

    In the classic Columbo, the killer executes what he thinks is a perfect crime. It’s usually something carefully planned, with time enough (usually before the episode begins) to work out the elaborate details. Ken Franklin, Dale Kingston, Jarvis Goodland, Tommy Brown, Paul Galesko, Hayden Danziger, The Great Santini, Oliver Brandt, and Abigail Mitchell are all excellent examples of this. Whenever the killer has had less time to plan (e.g., Elliot Markham, Adrian Carsini, Marshall Cahill, Mark Halperin, Milo Janus, Mark Collier), the scheme is understandably less elaborate.

    “Agenda for Murder” tosses this very logical distinction in the trash can. The phone rings. Oscar Finch answers it. It’s Frank Staplin, who’s obviously in trouble and looking for Finch, his old lawyer, to help him. It’s not Staplin’s first call. Previously, Finch told him he couldn’t help but recommended other good lawyers who could. Although Finch isn’t happy with Staplin’s persistence, there’s no apparent acrimony between the two.

    And yet, without any time to plan and before even meeting Staplin, Finch immediately starts putting an elaborate perfect murder into action: preparing sheets of aluminum foil, selecting tools, going to his office, burning a cigar, extracting a bullet from its cartridge, burning the powder in the shell, etc.

    When did Finch come up with this scheme, and why? Surely not in the few minutes following the call, as he talks briefly with his wife. There wasn’t enough time. Has he been working on this plan for days (while fully occupied on Paul Mackey’s behalf)? Are we to assume that Finch has such a superior understanding of human nature that, even before Staplin’s nighttime call, he foresaw Staplin’s threat (which Staplin had not made when Finch began to put this plan into action)? Or is planning elaborate murders simply a favorite hobby Finch practices in his spare time?

    “Agenda for Murder” isn’t the only Columbo to feature a spur-of-the-moment elaborate perfect murder. [“Murder in Malibu” has another.] But it’s not something I recall from the ‘70’s episodes. Kay Freestone had at least a full day to plan. And there are indications that both Harold Van Wick and Grace Wheeler had lots of advance notice that murder may be necessary.

    As Columbo might say: it bothers me.

     
    • As you say, it’s not the first time that Staplin has called. And Oscar Finch is a very clever man. He’s already had time to come up with a basic plan in case Staplin won’t take no for an answer, and during those few seconds between hanging up and calling out to his wife, he puts it all together as to how he can put it into practise that very night. What he doesn’t take into account is the rain and Columbo’s persistence.

       
      • I don’t buy it. People don’t plan elaborate murder schemes in a flash or on a whim. At the very least, the phone call should have included a threat or, better still, reference to a prior, ongoing threat.

         
        • As I said, Finch has had some time to come up with a plan. It’s not on a whim or on the spur of the moment. He knows what kind of man Staplin really is, and that he’s got blackmail evidence that will ruin his career and plans for the future. The second call in itself is the threat, despite Frank’s jolly manner. What Finch does do is some quick improvisation so as to be able to kill Staplin before sunrise. No matter when Staplin made his second call, something would have ben arranged.

           
        • In view of Finch’s ambitions, it isn’t hard to imagine that he’s spent a lot of time over the years thinking about what he’ll do if Staplin threatens to expose what he and Mackey did for him. Granted, it would be better if there were a explicit line of dialogue to confirm that Finch has been dwelling on the prospect.

          But I think it’s one of those things that only becomes a problem because the episode moves slowly enough that you can take time to let you mind wander. Look at “A Friend in Deed”- Mark Halperin swings into action the moment Hugh Caldwell calls him, executing a remarkably elaborate plan with only one damaging slip (the one under Mrs Caldwell’s pillow.) But who’s bothered by that? The story is so fast and so lean that you can forgive them anything.

           
          • Halperin didn’t concoct a plan from scratch. He tweaked a plan he’d been ruminating over for a long time: how to kill his wife. (When he lounged at the club in the company of younger women, the part of his mind not otherwise occupied focused on this problem over and over.) But his plan always lacked a way to divert suspicion from the most likely suspect. Caldwell dropped that missing element in Halperin’s lap and he was ready for it.

             
            • So we can assume. But we don’t have any dialogue to confirm that it’s so, nothing like the hypothetical elevator dialogue between Finch and Mackey you describe above. The episode carries us along so forcefully we don’t need it. Take out the padding, and this episode wouldn’t need it either.

               
              • That Halperin ‘devil’s den’ set up, speaks volumes though, i.e utter contempt for his wife

                This makes the pace perfect, particularly after the first murder. Yes it’s correct, we don’t see the second murder coming, but that’s simply because it’d never happened before (two different murderers) and so was shockingly surprising in a great way

                But then you realise, given the earlier scene, that Halperin was itching to get rid of her

                Not only my favourite episode but one of my all time favourites of any TV

                 
                • I agree. I’ve been watching this episode (as well as 90% of the others) for so many decades I can’t recall the first time viewing “Friend”, but it does provide well-devised deception for the first-time viewer. Before the reveal that Halperin is a high-ranking police official, we only see that he’s a gambler and philanderer whose first inclination upon hearing of Hugh’s ordeal is to dissuade him from going to the police. Then, at home, we see Halperin tell his wife that he “wrote that book” on ex-cons after being chided about his wife covering his gambling losses. It’s so clever but only truly works for the first viewing.

                   
                  • I also agree. When this episode starts, Janice Caldwell is already dead, but we don’t expect a second murder or a second murderer. In Columbo we are used to seeing who the murderer is and knowing how and why they did it but, with the benefit of hindsight, if we don’t see a murder being committed or the lead up to it (Spoiler Alert!) as in Last Salute to the Commodore, Columbo Cries Wolf and Murder in Malibu, then we should not assume that things are what they seem.

                     
                • That’s a great point about the “Devil’s Den” setup at the beginning of A Friend in Deed. It gets to the heart of pacing.

                  They say that when you cut footage out of a long, slow movie, you’re left with a short, slow movie. It’s the amount of information in each frame that makes it feel fast or slow.

                  A sequence as densely informative as the opening of A Friend in Deed gets you off to a rapid start. Agenda for Murder, by contrast, gives you one relevant fact at a time, at most. So cut the padding, and it still wouldn’t move as fast as A Friend in Deed.

                   
    • Spot on! It’s the only but major flaw. When we have these thought out murders, we must see the detailed planning.

      PMac’s brilliant tense sweaty intro in ‘By Dawn’s Early Light sets up the entire narrative for who Rumford is, i.e a reluctant assassin (hence his “It had to be done” comment). Consequently, we get the character more and of course warm to him far better

      This is a good episode though, up in my Top 30. I can think of a few better ones,which shows the new series wasn’t all bad

       
      • It makes sense to compare Finch’s planning with Rumford’s in McGoohan’s first outing, but I don’t see how one is superior to the other? At the start of By Dawn’s Early Light, we have no idea who this man is, who he is planning to kill, or why. (There are similar opening scenes in Short Fuse and Double Shock).

        In Agenda For Murder, the silent, meticulous preparations are very similar to those seen in By Dawn’s early Night, but by now we know who this man is, who he is planning to kill, and why. I don’t think we actually see any detailed planning in any episode (except perhaps for Make Me a Perfect Murder) just the preparation of the equipment needed.

        I think the problem some viewers have with Agenda For Murder is that the impression is wrongly given that Finch plans the entire murder in the few seconds between hanging up on Staplin and calling out to his unsuspecting wife. But we know that Staplin has called before and that Finch has the “Time Runs Out For Mr Lucky” newspaper clipping prepared.

        I think the implication is that Finch has been planning to kill Staplin since before the beginning of the episode, but will only do so in a “it had to be done” manner if Staplin won’t leave well enough alone.

        When Staplin calls late at night, Finch knows that he does have to put his plan into action right away, but he wouldn’t have committed the murder if Staplin had just done as he asked and gone to another attorney. (He wouldn’t have involved Mackey either if it could have been avoided, as he’s the weak link).

        Perhaps we can compare this to McGoohan’s final outing in “Ashes to Ashes”. (Spoiler Alert!) When Eric Prince is suddenly told by his victim that he is being blackmailed, he takes advantage of where they are and plans and commits a “perfect murder” in a matter of seconds.

         
    • Always fun to see the murder planned in advance , then imagine the victim’s actions making the murder totally unnecessary.

       
      • Having just watched this episode today, I’m now wondering if Staplin’s murder is not Finch’s first rodeo? Is he using a variant of a tried and trusted method of disposing of enemies, that were accepted as suicides by the LAPD because Columbo wasn’t assigned to those cases?

         
  29. At last a good episode for the new run – no coincidence it took good old Pat McGoohan to do the business.

    The gotcha’s a bit cheesy but other than that a very satisfying episode.

     
      • Ahah, that’s a good pun indeed! I liked the analysis, definitely one of the best episodes of the reboot, however I haven’t found precise enough info about my biggest question: where do you think this would rank if compared to the first season, somewhere around top 10 I’m thinking?

         
          • Eagerly awaiting this review and it didn’t disappoint.

            I would agree with the overall assessment… even the best of the ABC run are but middle-tier entries at most compared to the best of the NBC run.

            That being said, it’s great to see Mr McGoo’ back on ‘Columbo’ and he totally nails it on this… absolutely deserving of his Emmy win!

            If there’s some red herrings and bit of flab here and there, well that’s a small price worth paying for a nice little entry in the overall canon that’s (almost) a justification for bringing the good Lieutenant back.

            Alas, it’s also the best of the ABC run… although ‘Ashes to Ashes’ comes pretty damn close.

            In other words, if you want a quality ‘Columbo’ villain, go for the Goo’ every time!!!

            P.S. I do like ‘Columbo Goes To College’ too but we’ll get to that later…

             
          • Ah, wow, I thought it’d be much more competitive compared to the 70s episodes than just topping the B list!

             
            • A ‘B’ list appearance is impressive, it’s surely 8 out of 10 (9 for ‘A’, 7 for ‘C’, etc) – even if we all have our own independent ratings

              Remember, we are talking about Columbo where the quality bar is high. For me there’s few episodes of ANY TV that’s better than ‘A Friend in Deed’ or ‘Suitable for Framing’

              And I get the impression that our friend Columbophile, will have other episodes above it – certainly I can think of at least three

              The new series was let down by the sheer number of below average episodes, with some been very bad TV. But there was still around half a dozen ones that were above average, compared to the 70’s

               
              • Out of the 24 episodes total in the ABC era, I’d say about 7-8 (basically one-third) are good enough to live up to the legacy of the NBC era… after that, you get a sliding scale… although even some of the lesser episodes have some really good moments that are just as good as anything that came before.

                 
  30. I think this is the best performance of McGoogan’s outings as a Columbo murderer, and the best of the episodes that he directed. Both are quirky, but not annoying. I always liked the way he contemplates the murder, then says “Honey!” to his innocent and unsuspecting wife.

    The best Columbo’s leave you wondering what happened next to the other characters. In this case, I have great sympathy for the kindly Miss Louise and the nice young ladies at Finch’s office, as well as his family.

    One thing that has always puzzled me is why would the supposed late night meeting between Finch and Mackey be such a big secret? It’s open knowledge that they are friends and Finch is running Mackey’s campaign, so why would any meeting between just the two of them be a secret?

    I suppose this is one of the things that makes Columbo suspicious, like the single dry patch in the car park, and the realisation that Finch could have got his expensive suit wet if he’d walked the short distance from his office to Staplin’s house, to avoid his car being seen there.

    It’s all circumstantial, so Columbo needs the cheese clue to clinch it. It’s always bothered me that Columbo mentions the real life Ted Bundy case and the girls that were killed.
    I know that Peter Falk liked this clue, but I think mentioning real murders was just a step too far.

    And how clever of the writer to tell us that Staplin faxed two good jokes, but never having to tell us what the second one was!

     
  31. “Agenda For Murder” is often viewed as one of the few Columbo revivals that can go toe-to-toe with the original run. For much of the episode, I’d generally agree with a thumbs-up….but for me, the Gotcha doesn’t measure up.

    “One bite of cheese?” laments Finch. My thought exactly. Look, we all know that not all Gotchas are created equal, of A+ “Suitable For Framing” quality. But even if not top-shelf, a solid and competent Gotcha doesn’t need to put a significant crimp in an otherwise interesting and entertaining plot. Here, though, I think the final clue comes up short for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, it’s a clue that the killer forgetfully and conveniently places at the scene. In even the most basic mysteries, the detective’s job is made much easier when the murderer leaves something behind that ties him to the crime. This isn’t always terrible if it’s not terribly obvious – think the burned match in “Mind Over Mayhem” or Ward Fowler’s fingerprints on the prop gun bullets. And I’ll allow that when this episode was made, incriminating bite-marks were more of a novelty than they are now, putting a then-unique spin on the clue. OK, but Finch is an ace defense lawyer – this neglected piece of evidence cannot be a novelty to him, and he looks a bit dumber by simply leaving it there on the table next to the victim’s body. Even worse, as CP noted, Columbo’s “bite mark is exactly like a fingerprint” theory has since been debunked (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/02/17/it-literally-started-with-a-witch-hunt-a-history-of-bite-mark-evidence/).

    While Columbo doesn’t quite pull this clue suddenly out of his.….cheese-holder, it doesn’t make an appearance until later in the episode. That’s because the writer artificially stretches out Columbo’s realization that Finch likes to chew on things. The viewer sees this fairly early on, and it’s nice foreshadowing so it doesn’t catch us totally by surprise. But Finch meets Columbo four times with no nibbling. It’s not until their fifth meeting when Finch chews the gum and we see the lieutenant’s meaningful pause. Then, Columbo does the warrant-less search of Finch’s office for the discarded Wrigley’s Spearmint. If the writer had allowed Columbo to observe this munching habit earlier, the lieutenant could have synced this up with the killer leaving behind a bite-mark at the crime scene, and the episode would have been considerably shorter. The way the episode is structured, it seems like a long way to go for that “one bite of cheese”. More satisfying would have been a slip-up by the brilliant Finch in his creation of the phony suicide, rather than a mundane trait like chewing that could be tacked onto any ol’ Columbo killer for the Gotcha.

    I enjoyed the run-up to the final reveal, as “Agenda” does, in a positive way, hit many of the same notes as the original eps. And Patrick McGoohan clearly earned that Emmy. But while a cheese bite-mark might have seemed a clever clue in 1990, I wish this one had aged a bit better.

     

Leave a Reply to banbroview Cancel reply