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
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
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
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…