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Five best moments from Columbo Troubled Waters

Good hair days are guaranteed on board The Sea Palace!

It’s one of the most entertaining 90 minutes of TV one could ever dive into, so it’s little wonder Troubled Waters retains a special place in the hearts of a huge majority of Columbo fans.

Featuring Robert Vaughn as one of the series’ best-ever baddies, direction from Peter Falk’s BFF Ben Gazzara, and notable for being filmed during an actual cruise to Mexico, the sense of fun is palpable and never far from the surface.

But what are Troubled Waters‘ most magnificent moments? Here are my top five takes…



5. The peevish golfer

It’s a pivotal moment that passes most viewers by, but the flash of temper Danziger shows to wife Sylvia when he realises his golf gloves haven’t been packed is actually the incident that paves his way to ruin.

We don’t initially know why he’s so irritated at such a seemingly slight oversight, but Danziger’s golf gloves were a key ingredient in his richly plotted scheme to do away with troublesome lover Rosanna Welles. Their absence forces him to steal a pair of surgical gloves from the ship’s hospital – something that will forever haunt him when Columbo tricks him into incriminating himself with a second stolen pair at the episode’s conclusion.


4. Heart-stopping action

Columbo Troubled Waters
“YAROO – MY HEART!”

If audacity has a name, it must be Hayden Danziger – and the crooked car exec’s brazen faking of a heart attack at the ship’s swimming pool has to be seen to be believed.

Disguising the inhalation of an amyl nitrate capsule via conspicuously coughing like a schoolboy covering up a swearword, Danziger then clutches his arm and brays for help before plummeting into the pool in front of a veritable sea of witnesses – all of whom wholeheartedly swallow the bilge he’s dishing up.

By most folk’s reckoning this is a pretty feeble action scene, but by Columbo standards it’s a thriller and the most exciting piece so far of the elaborate murder puzzle Danziger is piecing together.


3. A rude awakening

Columbo feared his errant wife would be made to walk the plank

Following the discovery of Rosanna Welles’ corpse, the desperate ship’s crew turn to the one police officer they know to be aboard: Lieutenant Columbo.

Arousing him with a knock at his cabin door late at night, the sleepy-headed detective is taken aback when summoned to see the Captain, immediately assuming his wife is to blame. “The captain, to see me? It’s not about my wife, is it? I mean… she likes to have a good time, sometimes she gets carried away…”

We can only guess what high-jinks Mrs Columbo had been indulging in, but it’s a safe bet that some of those ‘muy bueno‘ margaritas and table dancing were involved. This tiny insight into the type of woman she is is priceless – made more so by the fact that she’s tantalisingly just out of sight all throughout the episode.


2. Columbo goes old skool

Up yours, Hayden!

Cut adrift (literally) from the boys in the lab back home, Columbo is required to indulge in some old skool policing to crack the case in Troubled Waters – and it’s so enjoyable to watch.

Using a Sherlock-style magnifying glass and graphite from a pencil, it’s fascinating to watch Columbo as he quietly goes about the business of obtaining a finger print from the inside of a surgical glove to prove that captain’s favourite Hayden Danziger is guilty of premeditated murder.

Notable for how Danziger’s confidence drains away as he realises Columbo has played him like a fiddle, this scene provides a fine example of how shrewd a detective Columbo is. The case in point: he noticed a pillow feather on the floor outside Danziger’s room in the ship’s hospital – a place where only foam rubber pillows are used to prevent triggering allergies.

For all of Danziger’s clever scheming, we learn that Columbo has been onto him from the very start – before the men were even formally introduced. What chance does any criminal have against smarts like that?

Bonus points for this being one of the very few occasions when we see Columbo not wearing his standard garb – instead favouring a muted brown and white Hawaiian shirt!


1. Volare without end

Despite its cheesy nature and interminable length, Rosanna Welles’ rousing rendition of Volare in front of an audience of enrapt pensioners is glorious and awful in equal measure. Whatever your personal views on it, it remains one of the most memorable scenes in Columbo history.

Not only does it absolutely epitomise the cruise ship experience of the 70s, it’s also effectively interspersed with scenes of Hayden Danziger busting free from the ship’s hospital wing and jalloping through the bowels of the boat ship so he can reach Rosanna’s cabin ahead of her mid-show break. It’s breathless stuff from all involved.

“Rosanna Welles’ rousing rendition of Volare in front of an audience of enrapt pensioners is glorious and awful in equal measure.”


That’s a wrap for today. With Troubled Waters being amongst the most popular Columbo episodes of them all, opinions on its merits are likely to be many and varied, so do share your own personal highlights in the comments section below.

If this article has given you a taste for more in-depth analysis of the episode, you can read my full review here. You can also find out where Hayden Danziger ranks in the list of most fashionable Columbo killers here. Until next time, safe travels and bon voyage


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32 thoughts on “Five best moments from Columbo Troubled Waters

  1. A great list. I also have always enjoyed the quiet scene Columbo has with the ship’s doctor in the dining room where they discuss how someone could fake or simulate a heart attack. Nice to see two professionals puzzle through this with obvious respect for each other.

     
    • Yes i like that scene , i also like the scene where columbo runs up and down the stairwell timing himself and deliberatley increasing his HR (HEART RATE)
      Before aking the doctor to read his pulse.

       
    • I’ve always wondered how Danziger could run up those stairs, jump back into the infirmary bed, but not raise a red flag when the nurse takes his blood pressure reading again. Especially after he’s supposedly just been snoozing.

       
  2. I enjoyed the dialogues between Columbo and the ship captain, particularly the one when Columbo is told that on the high seas the captain’s authority is pretty blanket (the line is something like “We don’t ask, I command”). However, and this is a failing I have watching a great many other movies and tv shows, I struggle to take seriously an officer in short pants.

     
  3. There’s a great sense of occasion about this episode that makes it very enjoyable. Also, Danzinger’s time framed murder is dramatically compelling, just like Kay Freestone’s.

     
    • It resembles the great santinis
      Murder plan in now you see him
      But also kay freestones race against the clock in make me a perfect murder which is the most exciting murder scene in the whole series

       
  4. We had the identical pool vacuum cleaner back in the day.. it did its job daily and my father called it The Beast! What a crafty job it did in Troubled Waters.

     
  5. Poupee Bocar was a beautiful, very sexy lady, and I found nothing amiss with her appearance or rendition of Volare. It was not interminable (under 5 minutes), it was on key and her voice quality was good. There was an instrumental break heard in the background while Danziger was executing his mischief before the singer returns to wrap it up.

     
  6. A Deadly State of Mind was one of my favorite episodes, so much so I remember it when it premiered, I was ten years old and thought Lesley Ann Warren was so beautiful. I remember being afraid to ever be hypnotized. The next day I went to my school library to find a book on how hypnosis worked. I also recall it being one of the murders Columbo couldn’t solve, or at least couldn’t prove even though he knew the psychiatrist hypnotized his victim to commit suicide.

     
  7. The Volare scene has some more little aspects for further analysis.

    Poupée Bocar’s Rosanna being the archetype of “beautiful woman” in this episode stands in high contrast with Susan Damante’s Melissa. The first being the over-makeup, overjeweled, big tits and hardly reachabe one, while Melissa shouts for a really high rank on the show’s most cute girls list. She is really natural, and I think she is arguably equal to Rosanna regarding appearance.

    I’m shocked to the earth when I see Melissa smoking in the hospital section.

    Rosanna clearly uses playback (and the creators don’t even want to hide is), the song continues on her uninterrupted voice when she hands the microphone to the guy. 😀

     
    • In the entry in this site about the most beautiful Columbo women, I gave a shout out to Nurse Melissa. Disheartened as I was about seeing her smoking, you also have put that into the context of the times. Circa 1974 nearly 2 out of 5 adults in the US smoked. Melissa grew up in a time where parents introduced their kids to cigarettes, no one gave it a second thought, it was accepted. Health risks were known, but not to extent they are today. Yes, people smoked in hospitals, on airplanes, buses, everywhere. Assuming Melissa became addicted before she entered nursing school, you have to understand just how powerful the addiction is even when you know the health hazards. So I just try to put those few seconds out of my mind, and see Melissa as the kind, caring person she appears to be. We can hope she kicked the habit not long after Columbo was a guest on her ship.

       
      • I think that Melissa has the shape and kindness to compensate that she is a smoker. 😀

        There are multiple Columbo episodes with strong advices to stop smoking, and references to its adverse effects even in the beginnig of ’70s.

        – The healthy Milo Janus talks about it with the Lieutenant and Columbo even tries to stop smoking
        – The heart doc advises to stop smoking that in Blueprint for Murder (and that is a rather early episode)
        – Reference in Agenda for Murder as Paul Mackey said Columbo that it’s disadvantageous when a politician smokes publicly
        – The forensic medical expert doc also suggests Columbo to stop it in Murder can be Hazardous
        – There are many other episodes too when Columbo tries to stop smoking…

         
        • Nurses and doctors smoking used to be a pretty common thing. I mean, people smoked on airplanes in the 1970s too..and they had smoking sections and non-smoking. The info was out there but obviously smoking was a lot more common as evidenced by Columbo’s frequency at just walking in to any random place and lighting up his cigar.

          My wife is a nurse and was an occasional smoker in the 1990s. Smoke breaks were an excuse to escape the hassle and a lot of nurses and doctors did that. Plus the nicotine fix for energy.
          Nurses and Doctors probably were more likely to be smokers then compared to the general population. And this was true in the 1990s as well when smoking was less common. Despite the seeming contradiction of a health professional smoking, it was incredibly common. That scene with Melissa smoking didn’t even stick out to me at all really. Just served as an indicator that she is there on her shift for the long haul and thus isn’t exactly on guard or paying attention to Danzinger’s room.
          TV and radio ads for smoking weren’t banned until 1970 (on a controversial decision signed by President Nixon). Until then, you would have celebrities and baseball players and announcers and the like all trying to convince you that Winstons have the smoothest flavor!! Etc etc.

          I’m a Melissa fan too. A couple of the more attractive ladies from the series both in the same episode!

           
          • I was rather shocked when I watched old episodes of Dr. Kildare and both Kildare and Gillespie were smoking outside of hospital rooms.

             
    • one funny little moment that I always enjoy is when dazinger is upon deck playing rings with his pals and columbo joins in and tosses a ring overboard and says thats gone forever , I have interpreted this as a suggestion from columbo as why didn’t the murderer just fling the gun into the ocean , its funny and serves purpose all at once .

       
  8. Ah, ‘Volare’… I knew that would be in there somewhere. I like the song, even if it does go on FOREVER in that scene.

     
    • The volare part is actually my least favourite part of the episode so im surprised to see it take
      top spot , even though its fundamental to creating the atmosphere of the cruise i find it annoying and lasts ages also columbo finding the feather was a tad convenient but there only minor beefs .Troubled waters is a top tier episode and a very refreshing break from the usual surroundings which sadly cant be said about A matter of Honor and Dagger of the mind .

       
  9. A few issues with this episode which I love overall…especially because Robert Vaughan is awesome.

    1. When Columbo meets Mr. Danzinger at the beginning he is in “chatty-trying-to-appear-dumb” mode a bit too much. He doesn’t know at this time that this guy is going to kill somebody. He isn’t trying to bait him there. So why is he acting like he is trying to bait him with the over-talking? His chatter with the captain and the steward about his missing wife isn’t to this extreme extent.
    But with Danziner he is already in, “trying to bait him” mode practically.

    2. Finding the capsule things in the pool filter seems a reach. But when he does, Danzinger is watching him. Doesn’t he have to know by this point that Columbo is actually on to him? After that I would think he would be suspicious of Columbo’s motives with the talk about the gloves.

    3. I want to time the song. I think between all the running around back and forth that song is going on for 15 minutes!

    4. How late does that show go? They break at 11. Come back. Then the magic act with the gun and the card. Then more. And Columbo checks out the body and then gets up there to meet Harrington for the first time. And the show is STILL going on! Does that show last from 10 until 1:30 or something? World’s longest cruise-ship show!

    5. Having the captain and others there at the end while trying to bait Danzinger is a bit of a risk. Does Columbo convince them in advance to play along and not say anything? Doesn’t really matter a whole lot. The fingerprint is going to be there whether Danzinger is there to see it in person or not. So Columbo dragged him there for that moment so he could go from Mr. Cocky to Caught.

     
    • It’s fun to reply to your astute observations!

      (1) Good question asking how unsophisticated does Columbo have to appear to be? When boarding a Ship there are dozens of staff available for questions! But the scene introduces Danziger to the audience. Asking us why do we need to meet him before the crime? His demeanor adds to both the obstacles that Columbo will be faced with, as well as his first impression of the suspect (as he sorts through all the possibilities.

      Another reason comes from (running) time to kill. Meaning this is an actual live cruise. We normally see most villains among their routine activities before a kill. But this can’t be done with Danziger. There weren’t many options on the Ship. The initial meeting between them shows the character’s false façade, his natural impatience, easily triggered annoyance, with no interest in small talk. (He’s self-centered, right!). An unlikeable culprit! In this scene without much dialogue or conversation to expand the villain’s personality, the casual exchange is a quick, shorthand and useful statement to pinpoint what’s necessary for the audience to know. And it’s about simply setting up these future adversaries! The dumber Columbo appears (from his disorientation and normal preoccupation) the smarter Danziger looks by comparison!! And although we are all seasoned viewers, the writer was asking, “could this really be the time Columbo can’t prove the crime??”

      (2) In spite of Danziger’s (assumed) self-conceit he was never lock-tight in assuming the perfect crime. Just in prematurely assuming that it couldn’t be proven for lack of legal authorities on board at the time of it. After all, nobody else would’ve ever noticed the feather. Remember that Columbo ALWAYS starts from narrowing down his suspects. Then picks up clues pointing to which one. So from when he sees Danziger in the Infirmary, it was a matter of time collecting the pieces to put the picture together. He saw somebody sick, and wanted proof of why (which he could’ve gotten Stateside). What Danziger (while being at sea) wondered, wasn’t how the crime “might” be solved but how he’d be proven as the killer. Especially as he watched Columbo (incredulously) working without any technical support.

      (3) Impossible to determine the “real” timing of anything in an episode except what’s stated in the dialogue! Direction only has to point to the possibility of credibility. Cutting back and forth between scenes also diminishes the (fictional) real timing of an event. Like how many stairs, speed of an elevator, does somebody have to wait to catch one, is the entertainer especially engaging the audience? How much do performances vary in length?

      (4) Regarding Shows, impossible to tell in real time. But there could’ve been two Showings. Or the undisclosed length of individual acts within the overall Show.

      (5) Columbo was looking towards ancillary witnesses. Not only for gaging the culprit’s reactions (anxiety, tension, irritability). But (perhaps) looking ahead towards the trial should the crime be prosecuted, when calling witnesses to testify. More importantly, the Ship’s protocol might’ve required the presence of an Official (ranking Officer) be present for proceedings when in international water. My guess is in analyzing Columbo’s personality that he never cares about any culprit’s personal reactions.

      Because for him catching them is more than enough!

       
  10. A very good episode. I believe it’s the first episode where we saw Columbo have a meeting or conversation with the murderer BEFORE the murder. Maybe Columbo and the Deputy Commissioner in “A Friend in Deed” had pre-murder interactions but that’s never made clear.

     
    • He also has a conversation with Jarvis Goodland before the murder takes place in ‘Greenhouse Jungle’, although he was investigating Tony’s disappearance at the time. This is the first example of him having a casual chat with the killer before any crime has been committed.

       
  11. Thank you, CP, for including the golf gloves scene among your best moments. Like the Jim Ferris “deja vu” scene in “Murder by the Book,” this moment is a wonderful gift to everyone watching the episode a second time, when they think there are no surprises left.

    One moment I would have included is that great scene between Columbo and Lloyd Harrington, confined to his quarters, where Columbo tells Harrington, “Keep your spirits up, sir,” reveals whom he suspects, “But don’t say anything. I haven’t gotten him yet.” It’s a rare display of Columbo’s candor.

     
    • “I haven’t gotten him yet” is an absolutely killer line. Columbo doesn’t sit him down and explain “Look, you need to keep your yap shut or else you are going to blow my efforts to trap this guy and then it will be pinned on you,” or anything typically long-winded like that.
      Just short and sweet and the impact on that episode and I think revealing of Columbo’s character in a way that we hadn’t really seen before.

       
  12. There were many for Columbo fans!

    However to respond to the question directly before seriously digressing, Troubled Water’s “magnificent” moments include watching Columbo out of his natural element (as an LA Police Detective accustomed to all his technical support) while attempting to have fun on a Cruise that his wife won! Meaning watching him navigate a situation that couldn’t be more diametric!

    Bravo!

    Of course we don’t ever get to see Columbo having fun once he is saddled with the (involuntary) responsibility of solving a crime. While he slips into his compulsion for nailing down a potentially illusive suspect! This is PF’s showcase! And RV wasn’t about to upstage him at any point. (Thus keeping his performance understated). It was also a beautiful premise to create featuring actors and observers! (Because it’s fun to watch which people are trying not to be obvious. I thought I read somewhere that this was also an “invitation only” cruise). Also admiring the technical difficulty involved with filming in a very awkward setting!

    Another Bravo!

    To elaborate further, particularly for (ultimate) Fans who’re used to “Napoleon Solo’s” ready humor and charm, it can be disconcerting whenever Vaughn chose a dour (malevolent) role, which were many that he portrayed post MFU. If there was a sense of any “real fun” during this episode, I don’t think it surfaced until Columbo was trying to find his wife at the end, indeed a very cool wrap-up (as we’ve discussed here before). If we had any hope of RV displaying his trademark NS (style) persona, it would be in the beginning when Columbo is asking him directions on the “boat.” With Danziger trying to be (impatiently) helpful, and yet borderline annoyed with such an unsophisticated passenger, and because of Danziger’s preoccupation with his upcoming deed. In other words, during their initial contact when we see both as natural characters and pre-adversarial. The purpose of the exchange (of course) is to establish Danziger’s familiarity with the Ship in comparison to Columbo being totally out of his own element!

    Again Bravo!

    Otherwise I think while Danziger anticipated a fool-proof crime, his own self-conceit wasn’t lock-tight. Opening the way for Columbo’s eventual involvement to become a thorn in Danziger’s side. And to be mindful of (ideally) being one step ahead of Columbo. So the cat & mouse play was fun! (In other words he realized how he’d met a greater match than anticipated, and how he expressed astonishment that a policeman was even on board the Ship (obviously beyond Columbo’s jurisdiction). (In international water?).

    In terms of wishing for more “magnificent” moments, (pre-crime) there should’ve been some interplay between Columbo and Danziger seated together in the dining room. Not only to expand the Danziger character, but to showcase Falk working off of Vaughn (who were both very experienced actors!). Except that it was likely Danziger (as owner of the franchise) would only be socializing with his own employees. And Mrs. Columbo would’ve needed an excuse for not being there). Still, it could’ve been a fun scene!!

    This has always been my favorite episode from the time it was first shown!

     
    • My favorite Columbo episodes are always those where he is out of his element. The cruise, Mexico, or the U.K. I believe it shows his love for the job. He is having as much fun solving a murder as others do enjoying “normal” vacation activities.

       
  13. Columbo misses an opportunity to get Danzinger’s fingerprints when he asks Daniziger to fire the gun into the mattress. Of course Danzinger doesn’t consider he’s handling the gun without gloves leaving his fingerprints on the gun.

     
  14. My favourite scene is when Jane Greer ( who only makes a couple of scenes) is interviewed by Columbo on deck. I think it’s actually one of the great Columbo verbal duals, along with Cassavetes, Culp. When she says “I’m on to YOU”, Peter Falk seems to be caught off guard – noticeably startled, followed by sheepish grin. Which makes me wonder if Greer was getting her own back with some smart ad-libbing ?

     
  15. I’ll go first today.

    I recently re-watched this hugely enjoyable episode, and the feather fuss doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should. Let’s face it, Danzinger changed his clothes on the way back to the hospital, he was in constant motion on the stairs, and the feather disengaging itself from him just outside his room – right where the coincidently-located Columbo could eagle-eye it – was a bit of a stretch.

    My larger question is……After the murder, why didn’t Danzinger toss the gloves in the laundry bin with the gun? We know why it wasn’t done dramatically. If it were written that way, as soon as the gloves were found, the insides would be examined for prints, and the episode would be over. We know that Danzinger couldn’t toss the gun off the boat (sorry, ship) because that would eliminate a key piece of phonied-up evidence against Harrington. But why did Danzinger decide it was a good idea to ditch the gloves overboard when he could have easily dumped them in the bin with the murder weapon? Columbo chats up this inconsistency with Danzinger, who speculates, “The gloves aren’t evidence”. So it looks like Danzinger, thinking it wouldn’t matter, simply f**ed up (and remember, he didn’t realize that there would be an actual police investigation on the boat, er, ship). Then, Columbo turns this “error” against the killer.

    The Columbo psychology here, as always, is masterful. By feigning concern over an element of the case – no matter how unlikely or tangential – he manipulates his formerly-confident mark into nervously sharing that concern, and the killer becomes compelled to “clean up” a crime that didn’t need any more attention, and the very act of cleaning it up becomes the final proof of guilt. Of course, this isn’t the first or last time he’ll do this – just ask Investigator Brimmer and Tommy Brown and Nora Chandler how they got gotcha-ed.
    This is psychology in action. Does Columbo really need the gloves with some powder burns to better prove the case against Harrington? Really, how likely is it that Lenore Kennicut lost a contact when she got smacked by Brimmer? Would Boy Scouts and forest rangers looking for a thermos bottle on a mountain really find a parachute hidden in a log? Is that really likely to be dead husband Al Cumberland’s Shriner’s ring? If Columbo wasn’t getting into the killers’ heads, these dubious points should logically be ignored. But of course, logic has nothing to do with it. And Columbo’s subliminal messaging takes literal form when he nails Bart Keppel (sorry, that’s “Doctor” Keppel).

    Final point: Poupee Boucar is pretty hot here, too.

     

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