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Five best moments from Columbo Playback

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t squeeze this golden moment into the top 5. Hate the game, not the playa!

It’s an episode that tends to fly somewhat beneath the radar when compared to classics such as Murder by the Book and Any Old Port in a Storm, but Season 4’s penultimate outing, Playback, still packs quite a punch.

Starring Oskar Werner (in his only US TV appearance) and the always-awesome Gena Rowlands as husband-and-wife duo Harold and Elizabeth Van Wick, Playback is an intriguing drama featuring some truly cutting-edge 70s technology that has aged much better than the Columbo norm.

It also boasts a thoroughly modern murder, a loathsome victim and a finale packed with emotion, ticking many essential boxes along the way. Just what are its greatest moments? Here’s what I reckon…

NB – Due to inclement weather and a prolonged absence from home in a feeble internet area, I am miles behind on full episode reviews. Columbo Goes to College analysis is now likely to be published in January. Thanks for your patience during this trying time when I am stranded far from home by flood waters and impassable roads!

5. The ‘super watch’

Marcy Hubbard is the apple of many a viewer’s eye… Van Wick less so

Is there a better way to establish an unforgettable alibi than by wowing a scorching brunette with a mind-imprinting DIGITAL WATCH? Harold Van Wick proves that, no, there’s really isn’t, as he dazzles Marcy ‘hubba-hubba’ Hubbard at the art show with his cutting-edge wrist watch.

A fun scene, notable for the drop-dead gorgeous Marcy being instantly smitten by Van Wick despite his being a complete drip, it sets a similarly strong alibi for our killer as was concocted by Dale Kingston at an art show four years earlier. Allied with the modernity of the murder itself, and the stall is set out early as being a case that even Columbo will be taxed by.

4. The clown experiment

For the first (and last) time in TV and film history, a clown doll wasn’t up to no good

Columbo ably demonstrates his mental acuity through a clever experiment involving Elizabeth Van Wick’s ghastly CLOWN DOLL!

The detective recalls that Elizabeth had claimed to have woken up at 9pm, groggy after taking a sleeping pill, on the night of the killing, believing she’d heard a noise, but settling back to kip when she noticed the blood-chilling clown in its rightful place on her bedroom chair.

In a house full of sound-activated doors, Columbo infers that the fact the clown was visible must have meant that Elizabeth’s bedroom door was open, casting light from the hallway onto the chair. Only a loud noise could have caused the door to open. Given that Elizabeth says this all happened before Van Wick was known to have left the property, the experiment goes a long way to satisfying Columbo’s hunch that he could have murdered Margaret before he left for the art show.

It’s fabulous deductive policework from the Lieutenant and a rare heroic moment from a TV/film clown toy, which are invariably better known for their acts of evil.

3. A very modern murder

Fiendishly clever manipulation of his in-house CCTV system allows Van Wick to pull of what is almost the perfect murder, as he guns down his hated mother-in-law Margaret as an empty room is being broadcast to the unusually attentive security guard in his watch room.

The crime has been recorded, though, and will play back via the CCTV some half-hour later when Van Wick is hob-nobbing with lovely Marcy at the art show downtown. It’s seriously clever stuff and a cut above the average Columbo crime in terms of cutting-edge tech.

Indeed, this staggeringly modern murder would still be impressive today and only Van Wick’s slip-up of leaving his art show invite on display on the desk behind Margaret’s corpse prevented him from getting away with it.

2. Spirit of a Dead Dog

One can’t help but feel that Columbo writers hated the art scene of the 70s, with Playback following on from Suitable for Framing in making an absolute mockery of it all. This is never more apparent than when Columbo goes to the gallery to check up on Van Wick’s alibi. Mistaken for a classless oik by prissy curator Francine, the Lieutenant is given a whistle-stop tour of the exhibit ‘highlights’ – all of which leave him absolutely unmoved.

The best moment? Francine’s straight-faced explanation of the sculpture entitled ‘Espirit d’un chien mort’ – or Spirit of a Dead Dog – is delightfully juxtaposed against Columbo’s bafflement that such tosh could be valued at $1200 – approximately 10% of his annual income! She is subsequently appalled when he mistakes an air vent for an artwork, and again when he compares Mrs Columbo’s penchant for painting by numbers to the expensive landscapes on display.

The scene’s not quite as damning of the vacuity of the art world encapsulated by Dale Kingston’s Champagne-infused love-in at the gallery in Suitable for Framing, but it’s pretty cutting all the same, and never fails to amuse.

1. The tear-stained finale

Van Wick is certain that his manipulation of CCTV footage showing the shooting of his crone-like mother-in-law will  leave him in the clear and free to continue running the family’s electronics empire into the ground. After all, as his flashy digital watch clearly demonstrated, he was eyeing up brunettes at an art show at the supposed time of the crime.

Naturally, Columbo’s inquisitive mind (and good eye) hones in on the only fatal flaw in Harold’s dastardly video scheme: his invite to the art show could be seen on the sideboard behind the mother-in-law’s dead body; yet it is gone in the rigged footage he used to establish his alibi. Ergo, the murder occurred before Harold left the building.

It’s some great detective work by Columbo, who has managed to overcome his unfamiliarity of the cutting-edge video technology to spot a detail everyone else missed. However, the real beauty of this gotcha is in the contrasting reactions between Harold and his wheelchair-bound wife, Elizabeth.

Harold’s quivering, barely controlled rage at being foiled is starkly set against the shock and despair of Elizabeth’s tear-stained face. It’s a masterclass from both Oskar Werner and Gena Rowlands, giving this closing scene an emotional punch few other episodes get close to.

“The real beauty of this gotcha is in the contrasting reactions between Harold and Elizabeth.”

That’s your lot for today, folks. As always I welcome your own thoughts on the highlights of the episode, and if you need a more detailed overview of Playback you can read my in-depth review here. You can also find out where I rank Playback’s closing scene amongst the top 10 greatest Columbo gotchas here.

Until next time, keep your noses clean and don’t trust bowl-haired man with flashy digital watches. You have been warned…

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100 thoughts on “Five best moments from Columbo Playback

  1. This is my favourite episode – and I’m surprised it doesn’t feature higher on the various polls, chiefly because it has two of the best actors ever to grace Columbo, has a great technological murder, and a great gotcha. Oskar Werner (although perhaps in the wrong role) may be the best actor ever to appear on the programme – certainly one of the few with a formidable international reputation (Faye Dunaway the other contender, although her recent credits have been lamentable).

    • I think it’s an excellent episode. That house was ahead of it’s time. It was the first “smart house.”

  2. Out of all the beautiful women who appeared on Columbo, my personal favorite is in this episode. Marcy Hubbard.
    Anybody else agree with my taste?

    • I would rate Joyce the photographer form “Identity Crisis” as my personal favourite, with Marcy a close second, and then (of course) Jessica from “An Exercise in Fatality.

      It’s a shame that Trisha Noble only appeared in one episode of Columbo, as she was utterly charming as Marcy.

      • AND how could I have forgotten the magnificent “dumb blonde” Gloria (Arlene Martel) from “The Greenhouse Jungle”? Duh!

        • What about Barbara Colby as Lilly La Sanka?
          Just kidding. Faye Dunaway is my female number one, and I got a feeling that Columbo himself shares my opinion.

          • Lilly La Sanka was quite attractive in her own way; Fay Dunaway of course has classical beauty and Columbo was hooked!

            • Fay Dunaway was SO ADORABLE in her appearance on Columbo. The chemistry between she and Falk was top notch. One of the most underrated episodes of Columbo, in my opinion.
              And, yes, the female who opens the door in the floral bathing suit in “Exercise” was stunning. I’m guessing that was considered very risque for 1970s network television. And the nude model in “Suitable.” Wowza….there was some beauties.
              I’ll take any of them listed above over the “nymhps” in “Cries Wolf.”

              • The ladies who played the “nymphs” (and the secretary) in “Columbo Cries Wold” were all lovely girls, but perhaps somewhat eclipsed by the two exceptionally beautiful leading ladies.

                • Based on your post I steeled myself and watched the episode with Faye Dunaway. What an embarrassment. Peter Falk wrote the awful script himself. He really let loose with some cringeworthy stuff. The later shows do not compare with the original series.

                  • Not me Pearl, I never even mentioned it. But the only bit I didn’t like was the gravity defying fountain.

                    • Just kidding Pearl. It’s the way these threads work. But for what it’s worth, I really did like “It’s All In The Game”. Mind you, the last time I watched it the announcer gave away the ending in his introduction.

                  • I have to agree. Faye Dunaway was excellent, but her kissyfacing hanging all over Columbo was cringeworthy and, yes, embarrassing in my view. I don’t know who directed that episode, but it should have toned down quite a bit. We know our detective is a happily married man, and I was offended at the way he seemed to be enjoying her way overdone flirtatious behavior.

                    • Columbo is a happily married man, and he never does anything unfaithful to Mrs Columbo. He knows that the attractive female suspect will try to distract him with her charms, and is playing up to it. He regrets the deception, as he thinks of her as basically a very nice lady that he can sympathise with. But no way is he ever going to let her get away with it.

          • Re Lilly La Sanka: even she was impressed by Jack Cassidy’s theater date in “Murder By The Book”. A brief appearance, but a memorable one.

        • And we should not overlook Valerie’ Harper’s comedy cameo in “The Most Crucial Game”. She’s also very pretty.

      • I like the whole amusement arcade aspect from Identity crisis some great outdoor shots in the Californian sunshine .

        • It wasn’t really the amusement arcade I was looking at, but the California sunshine does explain the halter top.

      • Yes, I love it that they found an excuse to have a pretty girl in what’s basically a bathing suit appear throughout the episode. And that when she appears at the end of the scene in Santini’s dressing room there is no need to explain to the viewer why she is there. Yes, so that we can watch her climb the ladder.

        I also liked the wicked stepmother and daughter in “Ransom For A Dead Man”. Ironic that their red hair matched so well, they might as well have been cast as mother and daughter.

      • Come to think of it, the girl that Santini hopes to recruit as his daughter’s replacement would have looked good in the yellow swimsuit too.

        • Another lovely lady I have overlooked is Rick’s fiance in “Any Old Port In a Storm”, who luckily for us actually is wearing a swimsuit (as she’s at the beach club). A lovely character (who is most definitely not a gold digger) and a lovey actress.

            • This is an obscure one, but I have always liked the very nice lady that Columbo sits next to at the dinner party in “A Deadly State of Mind”. The charming, dark haired woman in the black dress and gold necklace. It’s no wonder he decided to stay for a few minutes, nothing at all to do with the case.

              • Columbo’s decision to stay provides him with the crucial observation that Dr. Collier makes a phone call, then claims to have dialled the wrong number, hangs up and makes another phone call. This has a lot to do with the case as Collier murders his second victim at that moment. Columbo always manages to be at the right place at the right time.

                  • I see. In “Candidate for Crime”, Columbo also claims, his question (what Hayward paid for his jacket) has nothing to do with the case. But it has.
                    You are a modern day Columbo, Chris.

                    • Thank you. I do sometimes like to try to make a subtle (perhaps jokey) comment and see if anyone picks up on it. In this case it is that the lady in black is so very nice, Columbo has a good excuse to stay for a while. Although (and I mean this as a compliment to the lady) he would have stayed even if he had just gone to complain about the noise.

          • When she first appears, asking Columbo for help, I always thing she hop over to ‘Swan Song’ and sing with Edna.

    • I quite enjoy playback , probably more than the average person it easily makes my top 20 seventies table and top 30 overall
      I have occasionally read that peter falk
      traveled all the way to Switzerland to get oskar werner and bring him over to LA to make playback , Does CP know this for a fact ? and if its true it was a worthy trip as he puts in a decent performance only let down a tad by the columbo not investigating the real motive as the whole burglar/ intruder thing passes off a bit feebly as there was nothing stolen but very decent episode overall particularly the ending .

      • I think the explanation is that the “burglar” panicked when he’d killed someone and fled before he had a chance to steal anything.

  3. This is a good, solid outing with a couple minor speed bumps:

    • Margaret enters the room, then stops in her tracks as she sees Harold with the gun, then she turns to run away, with Harold shooting her in the back. Uh, what if Margaret had said something, such as, “Harold! Why are you pointing that gun at me?” or perhaps, “What do you think you’re doing, you spineless son-in-law?” or maybe “Sweet Lincoln’s mullet, your haircut is abominable!” You get the idea. Harold needed to shoot Margaret immediately upon entering the room – or better still, just before entering – to avoid that potential hangup. From what we’ve seen of Margaret earlier, it seems unlikely she would’ve been silent at that moment.

    • One of Columbo’s best psychological ploys to unsettle the villain is to badger him/her at multiple locations over the course of the investigation, popping up for encounters at the killer’s workplace, restaurants, social affairs, etc. For whatever reason, all of Columbo’s questioning of Van Wick happens at his mansion, and the result is a bit of a claustrophobic episode. The only scenes outside the estate are 2 at the art gallery, the place where Columbo sees the instant replay, and one at Midas (notably without Harold there). Hardly an episode dealbreaker, but just something of note that could have been easily dealt with.

    • I have often thought when I watch this episode that if Margaret had simply yelled “HAROLD!” then Van Wick’s plan would have gone up the Swanny, and we all know how bad that can be.

      Of course, he could always have claimed that she was calling him for help as the “man” of the house. Or, he could have edited the tape (if he had the time) but then Columbo would have found the splice.

      There has been some discussion lately of silencers being used on revolvers in various episodes of “Columbo”, which evidently would work depending on the model of the gun. But Why does Van Wick not use a silencer here? Obviously if he didn’t, there would be no clue about the clap activated door and the clown doll, but I assume the sound reason is so that Boomer would hear it even if he wasn’t watching the monitor.

      • I always thought that, too. Margaret asking her murderer “Harold, what the hell…?” would have destroyed his complex plan. But the script could have easily done without a microphone hooked to the camera and would then be perfect again.
        Using a silencer wouldn’t look too good on the burglar story. It would look like a premeditated murder and the burglar is supposed to have shot Margaret accidentally after she saw his face.

    • This is the same sort of “complaint” that one can make about Murder by the Book–when Martin Milner is on the phone with his wife and sees Jack Cassidy pointing the gun at him, why didn’t he didn’t he just call out “what the hell, Ken”?

      • Jim didn’t call out the first time Ken pointed a gun at him. If he had done, Ken would have explained that it was a gag. Maybe it was a test to see if Jim would cry out?

  4. I actually like it when Eluzabeth calls Columbo out for being ableist. He stops, and apologizes, and moves on. If we could all show that much grace.. .

  5. I always loved the opening scene in the sitting room, with Harold’s jerky comment about Margaret’s hair; Margaret telling him why she was firing him; and Harold laughing at Arthur’s managerial abilities.

  6. Sorry to hear about the technical and logistical problems you are having CP. I have been eagerly anticipating your review of “Columbo Goes to College” and look forward to seeing it sometime in January. Thanks for letting us know. As to this posting, well Marcy should really be at No 1, but I’m glad she made it into the Top 5.

  7. These are exactly the scenes I would have picked, the clown exeriment and the finale fighting for top spot. My honourable mention would go to a tiny piece of dialogue between Columbo and Baxter, the security guard. Inquiring after Van Wyk’s movements, Columbo says: ‘I’ve got this funny habit. You know, when a person does something one way and he suddenly does something another way, I immediately thinking.’
    A beautiful and rare line, revealing Columbo’s inner thoughts and suspicions.

    Dear Columbophile, take all the time you need and stay safe. Wishing you all the best and hopefully a swift return home. Beste regards from The Netherlands!


  8. And then there’s that one moment in the “tear-stained finale” when Harold, in a last, desperate move, begs/implores/harangues Elizabeth to corroborate his alibi — but she refuses. It is reminiscent of the finale of “Etude in Black,” although there Columbo, not Alex Benedict, brings wife Janice into the questioning — but she, too, draws the line at lying for her husband.

  9. I remember Trisha Noble in the early 1960’s in Australia singing on pop music show Bandstand. She was Patsy Ann Noble then.
    All the best Columbophile, I know a lot of eastern Australia is inundated with torrential rain and flooding at present.

  10. This was Oskar’s final credit listed on IMDB. Unfortunately this one-time global star appears to have become an unhappy recluse in real life. At least his final credit is a strong and worthy one.

  11. A strange thing in the clown-scene (a very good scene in a very good episode) is that Columbo keeps his shoes on when he lies on the bed. It has always surprised me.

  12. What is the word he actually uses to describe his watch? I’ve never been able to make it out. He says something like ‘it’s xxxxx it prints out the numbers’

  13. Interesting that you put the “Spirit of a dog” moment on place 2, because this entire scene was removed in the original 1975 broadcast in Germany. The network must have thought, it is a boring scene and the pacing of the story would benefit from cutting this six-minute gallery scene out. 18 years later it was filled in again. Therefore and only therefore the complete original German dubbing version, in which Oskar Werner dubs himself, was thrown away never to be aired again in my country. What a deadly sin!

    In my book, the clown clue deserves the title “best moment”, precisely the seconds when Columbo claps his hands and the door opens and the light gets in to illuminate the clown.

    • It still amazes me, television networks cutting scenes from episodes like that, and throwing away the original. Blasphemy indeed!

      • Yes, sir. And my wound has bled for many years because of this, but meanwhile I am blessed with happiness to possess a copy of this extremely rare original version with the shorter running time and the great Oskar Werner himself speaking German. As the missing gallery scene isn’t necessary to follow the plot, I’d prefer it anytime. What can be thrown away now is the second dubbing version from 1993, which is always broadcasted since then and in which a different actor poorly tries to imitate the voluminous voice of the Austrian theatre legend.

        • I can understand (but not approve) of the cutting of the gallery scene, as the comedy moments don’t bring Columbo any closer to solving the crime. But surely they didn’t cut the bit with Marcy too? I don’t just say this as a Marcy admirer, her brief meeting with Columbo tells him that Harold was trying the old Dale Kingston wristwatch routine, AND gives Columbo the vital clue: the invitation card which proves that he was at the party.

          • Marcy is to be admired when Harold is in the gallery while he establishes his alibi. This had to be enough for the German viewer in 1975. It was not a must-see that Marcy handed the invitation card to Columbo, just like many other encounters that we never see, but Columbo refers to them in his dialogues, for example his phone call with Tanya Baker in “Double Exposure” or the first encounter between Columbo and Edna Mathews in “Suitable for Framing”. I surely would have loved to see these!

            I remember that after my Columbo-addicted schoolmate commented on our first experience with “Playback” in 1993 after the release of the uncut version. He said: “The story was good, the murder plan and the clown clue and the gotcha were clever, but in the middle the episode was so boring!”, and he surely included the gallery scene as an example for that. I found out that the pacing is in fact sluggish, because there are many quiet moment with no talk that slow down the narrating, so 70 minutes are a bit too long for this script.

            • You make valid points about Tanya Baker and Aunt Edna, but in the case of Tanya, I think that we were supposed to see her.

              The end credits for “Double Exposure” list Arlene Martel as playing Tanya Baker (and this is therefore included in The Columbo File) but although the character is mentioned several times, she never appears on screen. (At least in any version I have seen, including on DVD).

              Was the scene where Columbo calls Tanya on the telephone ever filmed? If so, did it end up on the cutting room floor? Did they decide to just have Columbo tell Robert Culp about the phone call while he was trying to play golf?

              I like Arlene Martel in “The Greenhouse Jungle” and “A Friend in Need”, so it would have been nice to see her as the kind of girl a married man doesn’t admit to knowing.

              Perhaps she was indisposed and there was no time to hire another actress? In any event, nobody told the caption writer.

              • I have read that the Tanya scene was shot or was supposed to be shot and therefore Arlene Martel accidentally ends up in the credits, but the fact that we do not see her tells us that we obviously don’t need to see her after all, as beautiful as she may be.
                We have to live with the pain that many Columbo scripts refer to scenes in dialogues which really should have been filmed. There would have been so much more to enjoy about Vincent Price during “Lovely but Lethal”. It’s a shame that the Columbo crew often had to fill in scenes that we don’t need in the longer episodes and to leave out scenes that we would have needed in the shorter ones.

                • Thank you for that information. I still think that we really should have seen Tanya at some point, regardless of who might have played her, as she is key to the whole blackmail operation. But I guess that us watching that scene and then hearing Columbo recreate it might have been too repetitive. Perhaps we can assume that the uncredited bikini girl seen during the running of the film is supposed to be Tanya?

                  • We could assume that – if it weren’t for the end credits. But anybody who reads them and who knows how Arlene Martel looked as Gloria West in “Greenhouse” can’t assume it any longer.

                    • True, but Arlene Martel had a very wide range. It took me years to realise that she was also the salesgirl in “A Friend In Deed” and T’Pring in Star Trek.

                    • Come to think of it, is there a “pretty girl” character in “Double Exposure”? If not, I think this must be unique?

                    • If you don’t consider the elderly Mrs Norris as pretty, then there is no pretty girl in “Double Exposure”, but this is not unique. Try to find me the pretty girls in “Dagger of the Mind”, “Mind Over Mayhem”, “The Conspirators” or “Ashes to Ashes”.

                    • No offense to the actress who played Mrs Norris, who I am sure is a nice lady, but she is not a “pretty girl” in the sense of providing a contrast to our scruffy hero in a short comedy scene.

                      “Dagger of the Mind” has Miss Dudley, “Ashes to Ashes” has the lady bartender, and “The Conspirators”
                      has the (real life) radio interviewer, but I’ll grant you that none of them interact with Columbo. On the other hand, Mind Over Mayhem has lots of interaction with the very lovely Jessica Walter, but she is hardly a comedy character

                    • I can’t remember Miss Dudley having a single line to say, so she hardly qualifies for a “character” to me.
                      Nice try to turn the widow of the old Howard Nicholson into a “pretty girl character” but not the widow of Victor Norris. If Columbo had called Mrs Nicholson, young as she may be compared to her husband, a pretty girl, it would have made for a good laugh.
                      Who would be your “pretty girl” in “Columbo goes to the Guillotine”? Dr. Paula Hall? 🙂

                    • Perhaps I should make clear my distinction in Columbo terms between a “pretty girl” and an “attractive woman”.

                      A “pretty girl” is usually a secretary or assistant in some posh establishment that provides us with a comedy moment.

                      An “attractive woman” is somebody with more screen time and a more serious part in the proceedings.

                      Every episode of Columbo has at least one, or both of these. The possible exception to this is “The Conspirators”, as my suggestion of the radio interviewer is not on screen for very long.

                      I would go along with your suggestion of Dr Hall, but as an “attractive woman”, which certainly also applies to Jessica Walter in “Mind Over Mayhem”. It’s even mentioned in the dialogue!

                      Miss Dudley is a “pretty girl” character (they’re all characters) and her not speaking is part of the gag.

                      And as Gloria in “The Greenhouse Jungle” the marvelous Arlene Martel manages to be both!

                  • Under these conditions, “Double Exposure” could be unique indeed as Mrs Norris is supposed to be neither a pretty girl nor an attractive woman. This makes me think that a scene with Arlene Martel was really intended to fill in the hole. Good investigation!

                    • Thanks. I think that Mrs Norris comes under an important third category of “Nice Lady”. This would also include the landlady in “Suitable For Framing” and the seamstress in “Swan Song”, although they also provide comedy moments.

  14. Any male fans who want to see more of Trisha Noble (gallery assistant Marcy Hubbard) should check out a super British/Maltese film from the mid sixties, “Death is a Woman” !

    • To all male members of the Marcy Hubbard Fan Club, I recommend checking out another sixties film, “Carry On Camping” where Trisha Noble plays one of the schoolgirls. (And not the nude girl seen very briefly at the start of the film, although both characters are called “Sally”).

  15. This episode also has one of the best retorts from murderer to Columbo, when Van Wyck explains why the video doesn’t show the killer: “We were expecting a thief, not a murderer.”

    • I always thought he said, “We expected a thief, not a MURDER.” The grammar policeman in me always cringes. Perhaps it’s just his accent, and he does actually said murderer.

      • “…he does actually SAID murderer.”

        You admit to being a grammar policeman, and you wrote THAT??? Physican, heal thyself! 😀

  16. Take your time, Columbophile. next year is also a year.
    We’ll enjoy in 2021 what we’ll not have read in 2020.

    “a feeble internet area”: this could be an idea for a Columbo-episode.
    inclement weather too.

    P.S.: It should be “Esprit d’un chien mort”, not “Espirit…” (a detail)

                  • I don’t envy you for that. I decorated my living-room with original autographs of Peter Falk and Robert Culp, with a poster of Columbo and Paul Galesko and with TV magazines that have Columbo on its covers.

                    • Certainly, and I even rate it higher than for example Columbophile’s very favourite episode – and not because of Melissa, who might be one of your prettiest Columbo girls ever, am I right?

                    • No time To Die is a good story, a good police procedural, but it’s not really “Columbo”. And as a professional model, the kidnapped bride is of course by definition, a “pretty girl”.

                    • It doesn’t serve the series’ formula, but it is a Columbo because Peter Falk plays Lt. Columbo in it, and even Lt. Columbo has a private life. And who is to say, his private life couldn’t drag him into another criminal case as it always did with Sally McMillan in “McMillan & Wife”? She is also a pretty girl. To be honest, it is she that I name, when the question comes up which TV girl I would like to marry. But she is most pretty in Season 1 (1971/72) and starts to lose some of her appeal from 1973 on.

                    • Susan St James was undoubtedly a pretty girl, and if you prefer a younger version of her, she was I believe the only artist to appear in “The Name Of The Game”, as the male lead role rotated between Gene Barry and two other actors.

                      In the way that I interpret the casting of female characters in “Columbo”, Sally McMillan would be an “attractive woman”, rather than a “pretty girl”. A “pretty girl” usually only appears in one scene and is usually there for the purposes of a comedy moment. An “attractive woman” is someone that at least one male character in the story is attracted to.

                      Marcy Hubbard is rare in being an “attractive woman” in her first scene and a “pretty girl” in her second (although as I have said, she does provide Columbo with some important information).

                    • Sorry, that should have read: the only artist to appear in every episode of The Name Of The Game.

                    • I would put Susan Saint James in her role as Sally McMillan into the category “lovely, sweet teddy bear to cuddle before falling asleep”. A helpful note, thanks; I will have a look at “The Name of the Game”. Unfortunately it is not available on DVD, but I find episodes on the internet.

                    • As I recall, The Name Of The Game was about an investigative magazine, owned by the Gene Barry character. He would take it in turns to be the hero, alternating between two of his reporters. Susan St James played his secretary, who I think was called Peggy.

                      My old mum used to like Susan St James as this character, so I see what you mean about the “sweet teddy bear” aspect. “Peggy” was the glue that held the series together. (It’s a similar concept to another early ’70’s series PROBE, except that there the “glue” was Burgess Meredith).

                    • I gave “The Name of the Game: The Taker” a try, written by Richard Levinson & William Link, starring Gene Barry! Susan Saint James isn’t in it.

                    • Sorry mate, I haven’t seen “The Name Of The Game” in nearly 50 years. I thought Susan was in all of them. Perhaps she joins the show later? I was spot on with Gene Barry though.

                    • Just did a quick bit of research on a well known website. There were 76 episodes of The Name Of The Game in total. Susan St James appeared as Peggy Maxwell in a supporting role in 31 episodes, and took the lead in one episode.

                    • Thanks for the investigation. Next I will try “Fear of High Places”; she is in it there. Have a merry Christmas.

  17. John Cassevete
    s, Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk were acting pals in several films, very edgy and probably with a lot of improvisation.

    • I think Falk and Cassavetes trained together as method actors in New York. In the first film, Prescription Murder, a young Falk definitely has something of the Marlon Brando in his style.


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