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Columbo top 10 episodes as voted for by the fans: 2020 edition

As a brutal year limps to its conclusion in the hope of better things to come, the annual countdown of Columbo fans’ favourite episodes could be just the tonic to bolster flagging spirits.

Like a box of chocolates, all your old favourites can be found below in one neat package. There probably won’t be too many surprises here (especially for long-time readers of the site), but it’s always fun to see just which episodes are tippity-top of the tree and the positions you, the fans, have put them in.

With more than 10,000 votes cast, this is the most accurate breakdown of Columbo episode popularity on the web, so if your favourites are here, rest assured that they’ve earned their place fair and square through the votes of hundreds and thousands of like-minded individuals.

Without further ado, it’s my great pleasure to bring you the 2020 update of Columbo fans’ favourite episodes. Happy reading!

10. An Exercise in Fatality (Last year = 8th)

“Who wears short shorts? He wears short shorts…”

Seems like viewers can’t get enough of Milo Janus and his strapping physique as Exercise claims its third consecutive year in the top 10.

The Lieutenant is really hanging with the hotties in this one, with the late, great Robert Conrad and bikini-clad Gretchen Corbett undoubtedly the Prom King and Queen of the Columbo opus, while its gripping conclusion and the mutual dislike between detective and villain make for a thrilling ride.

Read my episode review here.

9. A Stitch in Crime (Last year = 10th)

Rarely far from the top of most fans’ personal favourites, A Stitch in Crime’s potent mix of ice-cold villain, heartbreakingly innocent victims and a thrilling conclusion, in which Columbo snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, means it’s been ever-present in the top 10 for five straight years.

Buoyed by superior performances from Leonard Nimoy, Will Geer, Anne Francis, Jarred Martin and Nita Talbot, Crime is also notable for an unforgettable flash of Columbo rage when the usually placid Lieutenant lets his opponent know what he really thinks of him. Scintillating stuff.

Watch the episode here.

8. Negative Reaction (Last year = 9th)

An absolute gem of an episode that effortlessly treads the line between darkness and light, playfulness and pathos, Negative Reaction remains one of the series’ most watchable outings.

A darkly themed double murder is off-set by some of the series’ best humour as Columbo is first mistaken for a bum by a sister of mercy and later terrorises Larry Storch’s highly strung driving instructor with his haphazard skills behind the wheel. Throw in one of the series’ best gotchas and a good time is guaranteed in a 90+ minute episode that never feels padded.

Watch the episode here.

7. Troubled Waters (Last year = 6th)

If Troubled Waters doesn’t float your boat ship, then I recommend having your funny bone checked immediately, as this on-board caper has retained a place in the top 10 every year since the poll kicked off in 2016.

A joyful romp on the high seas, featuring Robert Vaughn as one of the series’ sauvest killers, Troubled Waters is a hoot from go to whoa which even a relatively anticlimactic gotcha can’t subdue.

Read my episode review here.

6. A Friend in Deed (RE-ENTRY! Last year = 11th)

After sitting in 11th place for the past two years, A Friend in Deed bursts back into the top 10 with avengeance, proving that while form is temporary, class is permanent.

One of the most gripping stories of them all pits Columbo against his superior officer in an encounter that will definitely see the vanquished lose their badge. Dark and gritty, featuring a rare glimpse into the underbelly of LA’s 70s’ society as well as some outstanding action sequences, there’s nothing not to like about this superb addition to the canon.

Watch the episode here.

5. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (Last year = 3rd)

Finally jostled out of the top-3 spot it has held for the past two years, Bye-Bye Sky High nevertheless remains a firm favourite with thousands of fans thanks to its near-perfect combination of fun, frolics and intrigue as Columbo attempts to crack a murder committed by a bona fide genius.

Boosted by a magnificent turn by Theo Bikel as tortured genius Oliver Brandt, a brilliant example of a strength-in-depth cast, plus 10 or 12 of the entire series’ best or funniest scenes, and you have a gem of an episode that you don’t need a towering IQ to enjoy to the max.

Read my episode review here.

4. Now You See Him (Last year = 5th)

Just missing out on a rostrum finish here, Now You See Him’s sense of fun and its accessibility through the magical theme means it’s as popular with newcomers to the show as it is with aficionados.

It’s a magnificent send-off for Jack Cassidy and quite simply one of the most entertaining 90-or-so minutes of television ever recorded.

Read my review here.

3. Try and Catch Me (Last year = 4th)

From not even being in the top 10 in 2017, Try & Catch Me has steadily crept up the rankings ever since, reaching its highest position in 2020.

In my opinion the last truly great episode of Columbo’s classic era, Try & Catch Me delights through its combination of lovable leading lady in Ruth Gordon and the chemistry she shares with Peter Falk. With a support cast (including Dog) all bringing their ‘A Game’ to proceedings it’s a pleasure to catch Try & Catch Me, again and again and again.

Watch the episode here.

2. Murder by the Book (non-mover)

Arguably the most important Columbo episode of them all, Murder by the Book still has the power to mesmerise nearly 50 years after it first aired.

With Steven Spielberg’s direction injecting the viewer right into the action, Billy Goldenberg’s score a cinematic masterpiece and the rapport between Peter Falk and Jack Cassidy absolutely perfect, it’s easy to see why this episode means so much to so many fans – even though it can never quite get to the top of the standings in this poll.

Watch the episode here.

1. Any Old Port in a Storm (non-mover)

Columbo Any Old Port in a Storm
Well, Carsini wins Man of the Year… AGAIN!

2020 has been a bad year for just about everyone, but Adrian Carsini continues to come up smelling of roses as he holds on to top spot in the poll for the fifth consecutive year, with almost 9% of the total vote.

With Port widening its lead over Murder by the Book this year, it’s become crystal clear that when Adrian Carsini is in town, everyone else is playing for second spot. Indeed, it will take a turnaround of mammoth, match-fixing proportions for Any Old Port to ever be toppled from its Ivory Tower.

Pretenders to the throne can only hope that the proposed takeover by liquid filth purveyors the Marino Brothers finally comes about to give them a fighting chance of claiming the Columbo Crown from this perennial crowd-pleaser.

Watch the episode here.

Best of the rest

Suitable for Framing dips out of the top 10 this year after sitting 7th last year, but remains within touching distance of a stirring comeback, so don’t dare count Dale Kingston and his tux from leading an assault on the highest rungs of the rankings in 2021.

Elsewhere, and rather like the top 10 itself, there’s little activity in the 11-20 list with most of the entries simply jockeying for position amidst minimal movement. The only episode to drop out of the top 20 from the 2019 list is Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo, which switches places with Columbo Goes to College and slips to 21st.

In 12th, Robert Culp’s Double Exposure is at its highest position since 2016 but still can’t crack the top 10. Likewise By Dawn’s Early Light, which remains Patrick McGoohan’s most popular outing, in 14th. Former top 10 episode Publish or Perish continues its slide down the rankings, now nestling in 18th place after reaching the dizzy heights of 6th in 2017.

11. Suitable for Framing (last year = 7th)
12. Double Exposure (last year = 14th)
13. Swan Song (last year = 12th)
14. By Dawn’s Early Light (last year = 13th)
15. Etude in Black (last year = 16th)
16. Prescription: Murder (last year = 18th)
17. The Conspirators (last year = 17th)
18. Publish or Perish (last year = 15th)
19. Columbo Goes to College (last year = 21st)
20. Forgotten Lady (last year = 20th)

New and improved?

As usual, the top portion of the list is packed with ‘classic era’ episodes, with comparatively slim regard given to the ABC episodes from 1989-2003. As was the case last year, the only ‘new’ Columbo episodes in the top 30 are College (19th), Rest in Peace (21st) and Agenda for Murder (30th).

For a fairer comparison, I recommend checking out the top 10 ‘new Columbo‘ episodes as voted for by the fans article here.

The murky depths

I feel ya, Lieutenant. Grand Deceptions is a struggle to stay awake through

Season 8’s unutterably tedious Grand Deceptions props up all the rest, with A Matter of Honor, No Time to Die, Strange Bedfellows and Mind Over Mayhem rounding out the bottom five. Old Fashioned Murder is the third classic era episode in the lowest rated 10 episodes, in 61st position.

And that, my dear friends, is about that for another year at least. As always, I welcome your views on the list and your opinions on any startling omissions. As the top 20 is now essentially a movement-free zone, do also let me know if you think it’s even worth continuing this annual round-up. I’d hate to become boring, after all.

With that, I shall bid you adieu until next time. I may yet squeeze in another article in 2020, but if I don’t quite manage to do so I wish you all well and look forward to catching up in 2021, which surely will be a more positive 12 months for us all.

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“Do I have to blow someone up with a cannon to break into the top 10?”
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174 thoughts on “Columbo top 10 episodes as voted for by the fans: 2020 edition

  1. Theres a marathon columbo session kicking off on 5USA from 9 am and its a good one ill list them ,

    Swan song
    Troubled waters
    Its all in the game
    Try and catch me (star pick*)
    The most crucial game
    A case of immunity
    Death lends a hand

    How about that for a heavy weight lineup, Try and catch me and swansong&troubled comfortably my top 3 choices here and the rest very watchable exept for its all in the game which ive never been a big fan of
    Overall very healthy viewing on a cold sunday.

  2. Hey U.S. Columbophiles! Just letting peeps know there’s 48 hours of Columbo on Sundance this weekend.

  3. An interesting spin in this discussion. From 6AM (EST) Saturday, Jan. 2, until 6AM Monday, Jan. 4 —48 hours — the Sundance Channel is showing 24 straight Columbos. Among the 24, are four Columbos being shown twice: “Murder by the Book,” “Any Old Port in a Storm,” “Now You See Him,” and “Negative Reaction.” (And only one “new” Columbo is being shown: “Butterflies in Shades of Grey.”) Presumably, Sundance is showing the episodes they believe we most want to watch.

  4. Fellow Columbo fans:
    It was just reported this afternoon that Columbo co-creator William Link passed away two days ago, Sunday the 27th at the age of 87 of congestive heart failure.


  5. Dagger of the mind shouldnt be a candidate for the top 60 in my view a simply awful episode and i am a londoner , in fact i am of the opinion it should never even been produced , a matter of honor the only other episode filmed outside the states is passable for me because at least it has a serious tone unlike dagger wich is tedious nonsense from start to finish , fade in to murder was also affected by this silly undertone but nowhere near the extent of dagger ,
    fade in to murder would struggle to make my top 30 overall plus its just not a great episode and while im on it im also not a big fan of the conspirators which is in 17th in the poll and i think any old port in a storm is way overated in top spot.

  6. I love this Columbophile Blog! The episode summaries and thoughts are expertly crafted, and the captions on the images are hilarious! keep up the great work, CP!

    It is really interesting and fun to read the thoughts that other Columbo fans have on their favorite episodes. Every one of us has his/her own personal reasons for liking or disliking an episode. For what it’s worth, this is my personal top five, with a short explanation for each ranking:

    1. “A Friend In Deed” – easily my favorite episode. More than anything, I enjoy it when Columbo takes down a reprehensible villain. Here, the villain is a totally unethical commissioner of police, who has helped a neighbor cover up for killing his wife, and then who goes on to kill his own wife out of greed. Richard Kiley is masterful in this role, and the “Gotcha”, when the arrogant commissioner realizes that he has been duped, is, for me, by far the most satisfying ending of any Columbo episode.

    2. “Prescription Murder” – The brilliant “I know that you know that I did it, but you can’t prove it” scene between Dr. Fleming and Columbo, is, in my humble opinion, the single very best scene in any Columbo episode. Absolutely classic. And the “Gotcha” ending where Fleming has his own strategy of impersonation used against him, is great. This first episode set an incredibly high bar for following episodes to aspire to achieve.

    3. “Troubled Waters” – I think that this episode had the most clever “Gotcha” of all, when Robert Vaughn is tricked into ensuring that Columbo finds the “damning” powder burns on the rubber glove, only to learn that he has left his incriminating fingerprints on the inside of the glove. Plus, this episode had the most interesting setting for me, having taken place on an actual cruise ship.

    4. “Candidate For Crime” – Just like in “A Friend In Deed”, I love it when an unethical dirtbag gets taken down. And here we have a candidate for the U. S. Senate, Nelson “”His Own Man” Hayward, who is cheating on his wife – with his wife’s secretary! – and who also kills his campaign manager – the single person most responsible for putting him in his position of power and influence. The acting performance of Jackie Cooper is outstanding – he plays the role of a crooked politician with expertise. I also think that Joanne Linville (playing the role of Hayward’s shorn wife) is, along with Gena Rowland’s role as Elizabeth Van Wick in “Playback” and Blythe Danner’s role as Janice Benedict in “Etude In Black”), one of the best acted and most sympathetic characters in a Columbo case. The “Gotcha” moment is top notch, and enhanced by the fact that Hayward’s wife and his lover are both standing right by his side, watching him go down in flames.

    5. “Negative Reaction” – I’m not as taken by the “Gotcha” in this episode, but traditional comic actor Dick Van Dyke was brilliantly and unconventionally cast to play the murderer here. This episode contains my top two favorite humorous Columbo scenes: A). Columbo being mistaken for a homeless man by sister Joyce Van Patten, and B). nervous, anal retentive driving examiner Larry Storch demanding that Columbo drop him off at the sidewalk so he can safely walk back to his office. Vito Scotti’s excellent role as the wino is frosting on the cake.

    • Your words on “Prescription: Murder” (my number 6) could have been mine. That’s what I would have said about it, too.

      What always bothered me about two of your favorite episodes is:

      1) I don’t understand why Hugh Caldwell confesses so easily to Artie Jessup, who has no facts at all, only his theory and his accusations. Why would Hugh act like the inferior one in this conversation, and why wouldn’t Hugh talk to Mark about the planned first meeting with Artie before the meeting takes place? Mark Halperin, a commissioner, an expert, could have given Hugh some good advice how to behave and what to say. Instead, Hugh goes to Artie, gives in to him, accepts the blackmail and then talks to Mark.
      A strange behaviour. How could Columbo count on this?
      Another weak point is, and it has been discussed a lot in the reviews: Why would Mark take the risk and set his legendary best man, who never fails to detect the important clues, against his good friend and against himself? Why not choose a lesser light in his department who would be easier to fool?

      2) To which portion of his body could the feather have stuck to Hayden Danziger, before it fell off? He changed clothes on his way back from Rosanna’s room to his bed, so where do you suppose the feather to have rested all the time?

      Maybe you or someone else has got an answer that helps me to lift up “A Friend in Deed” and “Troubled Waters” in my ranking; both are not a Top 30 case now although the gotcha in “Friend” is indeed one of the very best.

      • Two possibilities. Could’ve stuck for a bit to the back of his neck, if it skin was a little sweaty. But evaporated by the time he returned to the infirmary. Or two, static electricity could’ve made it stick on the back of his hair temporarily.

        😉 (The writer always could’ve tested out his theory before using it … just a thought!)

      • Count me in as being very interested in “lifting” up Troubled Water. (I’ll confess, being a Robert Vaughn fan!). But mainly that Troubled Water is a simple, clearly presented dastardly deed. (Jealously, infidelity, arrogance, cat & mouse chase). Being nothing more than it is. I watch TV for relaxation, not having to tax my brain with too many details and complications. Mystery novels are better directed for that purpose!

        For me, I look for the production value. The challenges of an on-board location shooting. Limited venue. The necessity of relying on character driven chemistry. (It has to pop!). The humor. And really, focusing more on Columbo’s skills (away from his usual convenient contrivances) which I think showcases a whole different aspect of his personality and skills. I like that the ship (and the cruise) provided its own locality and limitations. And that the production setup worked with what they had. Plus, (a very youthful) Dean Stockwell hardly gets discussed enough! People get all distracted by the simplicity of the plot, and yet it was entirely character driven! A matching of wits!! (Plus Vaughn and Falk were acting contemporaries!!). And I appreciated how they “acted” off of one another!

        • I can tell you, “Troubled Waters” was the 4th episode I saw as a teen (after “Death Lends a Hand”, “Murder – a Self Portrait” and “A Friend in Deed”), and it was the one that made me say “Wow, every Columbo I watch is simply great stuff, now I am a definite fan!”, and when the rerun aired one year later (I had started to collect Columbo in the meantime), I was happy to finally have “Troubled Waters” in my collection. It was my number one for a short time, topping “Swan Song”, mainly because of the setting on the sea, the holiday feeling, because of Columbo’s old fashioned one-man-workshop and because of Robert Vaughn, a superb, elegant and charming type of adversary to Columbo.
          The enjoyment factor is very high, but I need to talk myself into this damn feather subject being a realistic script ingredient to ease my conscience. Another trouble I have with “Troubled Waters” are the gloves and the pencil’s graphite. I just couldn’t make my fingerprints visible on this kind of surgery gloves the way Columbo did it with his pencil.
          A Columbologist like me needs logic in the story to be fully satisfied with an episode he cherishes. Thank you for helping me out; next time I watch it, I think it could make the Top 20 again.

          I got the same thinking problem with “Columbo goes to College”. I don’t believe the murder method could work. I tested it. If I stand too far away from my car, pushing the button doesn’t trigger the central locking system. Can anyone, hopefully a technician, confirm that the electromagnetic radio waves of the students’ remote control can actually reach through the floor and through the walls of the building and open the door of their car?

          • I don’t know if this ploy applies exactly to Troubled Waters, but aren’t there episodes where Columbo kind of bluffs with the evidence? I mean did he actually prove (on sight) to Danzinger that he captured perfect fingerprints, or did he bluff him into thinking what he had was enough? So that basically Danzinger would give himself away.

            • Whenever Columbo bluffs, we are told he did after the gotcha moment. In “Death Lends a Hand”, he explains his little potato trick to Mr Kennicutt, in “Dagger of the Mind” he demonstrates to Superintendent Durk how he flicked the pearl into the open umbrella, in “Uneasy Lies the Crown” he grins at the coroner that he might be right about his suspicion of fake evidence. If Columbo were to bluff in “Troubled Waters”, the Captain would find out about it – and so would the audience.
              I don’t doubt that surgery gloves sustain fingerprints, but I have to doubt the pencil graphite method to make them visible to the naked eye, because I failed in reproducing it.

              • In “Death Lends a Hand,” there’s also the open question as to whether he planted the contact lens in the trunk.

          • I am much less bothered by the kinds of technical issues you mention than I am by characters acting illogically. I’m perfectly willing to suspend disbelief and afford dramatic license on the technical stuff, assuming the presentation is plausible. In other words, Oliver Brandt’s “Mousetrap”-like device looks plausible enough; I need no expert confirmation that opening one door will create enough cross-draft to slam another door shut some distance away. It looks plausible enough to me.

            But when characters act illogically, often in ways clearly designed by the writer(s) to serve some plot necessity, that does bother me. Not characters who overreact to Columbo’s vague suspicions, and incriminate themselves as a result. That I understand. These folks know what they did. It’s perfectly logical that they fear Columbo knows more than he’s letting on, and react with a touch of paranoia. That’s consciousness of guilt. I accept that.

            I’m talking about when they inexplicably concede something for no reason other than that their concession makes the writer’s job easier. My favorite example is in the final scene of “An Exercise in Fatality.” After Columbo does his shoelace demonstration, writer Peter Fischer has Milo Janus concede: “Your little demonstration proves one thing and one thing only. That somebody else put on Stafford’s gym shoes. But the fact remains you can’t prove that I did it.” That was an enormous concession on Janus’ part. It was also fairly illogical. Columbo hadn’t proved that Gene Stafford always tied his shoes a certain way. Columbo didn’t compare a closet full of tied Stafford shoes. He had two of his shoes, each tied differently. Janus could have said, and logically should have said: “Your little demonstration proves one thing and one thing only. That Gene tied his shoes lots of different ways.” But that wouldn’t have served Fischer’s ending. Fischer needed Janus to concede that “somebody else put on Stafford’s gym shoes,” in order to give Columbo a clear path on which to nail him. Had Janus disputed Columbo’s premise, which he had every reason to do, the episode couldn’t have ended on time.

            • Just to further the discussion …

              Neither in defense nor promotion of, it appears to me there are 2 kinds of viewers. And I see this with the Perry Mason series as well. But it’s well explained in your comment.

              The first kind of viewer is already a murder mystery buff. Spoiled (or perhaps indulged) by excellent writers who are masters of the genre. Particularly in print! They have an endless number of pages (text) to go through all the elements of the crime! Motivation, setup, execution, dissemination of clues, and of course, the chase and incrimination.

              With Perry Mason, a viewer has to think in terms of, will the elements of accusation stand up in court? They must be based on proof. And certainly beyond Perry Mason’s personal suspicions (and his instinct of human nature!). Fans are used to the books, the presentation and writers “logic” which is demonstrated over and over. And so they approach the series with an established understatement about the main character, being Perry Mason himself. In other words, he’s become an established character of credibility. And so the recurring writers use this understanding to their advantage!

              The fans of the Columbophile, are this level of viewer as well. Coming with (and indulging themselves) with very high expectations of Columbo (hopefully through the excellent abilities of writers). And not necessarily with the luxury of written Columbo mysteries that precede the series! Therefore they place a LOT of weight on what can be accomplished through 50 minutes running time!

              It goes a little beyond the luxury of savoring a Columbo novel (as with other excellent mystery novels). Therefore I believe these episodes are never going to be “perfectly” crafted! Granted the fun is in the discussion (here in the forum) I get that! But in the end, it has to be about a lot of things. Mainly chemistry between the characters, circumstances, motivation (a very strong element), personalities, location, and presentation! Aren’t we MOST fascinated by Columbo’s own personality? What makes him tick, drives him, what he can pull together (sometimes) in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles? IMO what is presented can only be “brushstrokes” (never meant to be recreations of reality!). As in, here’s how this particular character (villain) gets into trouble, and tries (that’s the operant word) to escape! And what all does it take for Columbo to solve the crimes? Will that evidence hold up in Court, … well that question shifts over into the world of “Perry Mason.” But remember, a television series is (and has to be) of a different kind of depth (just by sheer necessity) to succeed, rather than the best kind of a written crime novel!

              The Columbo series is a focus on characters, personalities, emotions, motivations (among all the supporting characters) including Columbo! He’s always part of that ensemble, neither perfect nor foolproof. But in the end, if we are entertained – then THAT is the goal of the production!! And we shouldn’t get too distracted in the minutia. We shouldn’t get sidetracked by too many possible “flaws” or we will miss the beauty (or purity) of the character himself!!

              Just a thought. (I don’t like to see anyone be too disappointed by a particular episode. And awful lot goes into each and every production!). Wink! 😉

            • Everybody is bothered by something.

              As you mention Oliver Brandt:
              When Columbo throws this You-have-just-given-yourself-away look to Oliver Brandt, Oliver’s reaction is what I call illogical. A man of his intellect should immediately after he notices “Damn, I really did!” claim: “No I didn’t. I just figured out how it had to be done. That doesn’t mean it was me who did it. And by the way you have no eye-witness for what I just did.”

              • Then let Brandt explain how he knew the red magic marker was involved. Let him try to explain why, with his oldest friend just shot, he was focused on an extraneous item lying somewhere on the floor. And Columbo certainly does have an eyewitness. Columbo is the eyewitness. (That other old trope: “If you say I admitted it, I’ll just deny it,” is one more ridiculous legal fiction. Columbo will testify to what happened. Let Brandt then take the stand, call Columbo a liar, and subject himself to cross-examination. Who do you think the jury will believe?)

                • I guess if Brandt were to be arrested, he would be smart enough not to explain anything and to let his lawyer do the job. I know that’s not what a Columbo movie is about, as it is a two-man-show ending before the court is involved.
                  In “Prescription: Murder”, “Death Lends a Hand”, “Short Fuse”, “Blueprint for Murder”, “The Most Dangerous Match”, “Double Exposure”, “Negative Reaction”, “By Dawn’s Early Light”, “A Deadly State of Mind” and even “Last Salute to the Commodore”, Columbo seems to be dependant on the testimony of at least one more observer, because his own statement “Hooray, my suspect stepped into my trap!” wouldn’t be enough.

                  • Obviously, the more witnesses, the better. But “better” does not mean “necessary.” In “Suitable for Framing,” for example, no one but Columbo can explain how his fingerprints got onto the Degas paintings. In “Lady in Waiting,” there’s only one witness to the fact that the gunshot preceded the alarm. In “The Most Crucial Game,” who besides Columbo can testify that Hanlon’s clock was chiming correctly on the day of the crime? In “Requiem for a Falling Star,” who witnesses Nora Chandler’s confession to killing Jean Davis except Columbo? In “How to Dial a Murder,” only Columbo witnesses Eric Mason use the kill command. So relying on one witness, be it Columbo or someone else, isn’t particularly rare.

                    • Kingston himself admits that Columbo’s explanation for his fingerprints on the paintings is the correct explanation by his stunned “You touched them?”, and everybody hears it. If Kingston was asked to give a better explanation, he wouldn’t have one, because it would not suit the case.
                      In “The Most Crucial Game”, Hanlon would have no way to prove his clock was chiming incorrectly, but I’ll give you a weak court case against Hanlon nonetheless. That’s why this Culp episode dropped down a little from a previous number 2 spot some years ago.
                      In “Requiem for a Falling Star”, Nora confesses because she knows there is no way out. If she hadn’t given in, the cops would search her garden and find her dead husband’s body under the lawn. I guess they would do so anyway, even after her confession.
                      “How to Dial a Murder” is currently my second weakest episode from the 70’s. Oliver Brandt’s case is still above it.

      • Hi Columbologist,

        Thanks for the comments on my post. It sounds as if we have similar likings and thoughts regarding several of our favorite episodes.

        1). I just re-watched “A Friend In Deed” to focus on your first question. Actually, it appears to me that Hugh Caldwell didn’t confess at all to Artie Jessup. My understanding is that Columbo knew that Caldwell was involved in the murder of his wife, and also suspected that Mark Halperin was an accomplice in both Caldwell’s wive’s murder, as well as his own wife’s murder. But he needed proof. He also realized how Halperin was single-mindedly focused on somehow implicating Jessup for the murders. So when Columbo met with Jessup at the bar, they had a conversation (not shown in the episode, but explained in the final scene in Columbo’s apartment) where Columbo persuaded Jessup to help him. Columbo told Jessup to phone Caldwell and tell him that he had proof that Caldwell had murdered his wife, and that he was going to report Caldwell to the police if he didn’t pay him some money to keep quiet. Caldwell never confessed to Jessup that he himself had killed his wife – but he was spooked enough to believe that somehow Jessup somehow did have proof that Caldwell had committed this murder and would turn him in to the police if he didn’t pay this blackmail. Jessup also “conveniently” tells Caldwell that he was the burglar of the first 3 robberies in the neighborhood, and that he doesn’t want to be blamed for the murders of Caldwell and Halperin’s wives, as he is merely a burglar and not a killer. This bit of info is purely bait, because Columbo knows that Caldwell will then immediately seek advice from Halperin on what to do next. And Caldwell does indeed talk to Halperin (see 1:19:40 – 1:21:07), who advises him to meet with Jessup and find out how much money Jessup is asking for, so they can then discuss their next move. Halperin took Columbo’s bait, hook, line and sinker, leading to him planting Caldwell’s wife’s jewelry in the apartment which he believes belongs to Jessup.

        Yes, I agree with you that Halperin’s assignment of Columbo to the case seems crazy…. unless you consider and accept the notion that Halperin is so cocky and sure of himself that he thinks he can outsmart even Columbo, nd use his influence as the commissioner to influence the investigation (which he does, by insisting that Columbo also focus on the burglaries and the burglar suspects that Lt Duffy has been focusing on. Certainly, in real life, Halperin would most certainly have picked the least capable homicide detective, but then we’d never be able to enjoy this episode, as it wouldn’t exist!

        2). Truly, I have no good idea of how the feather stuck to Danziger until he’d returned to the sick bay. Perhaps the feather stuck to the bottom or the side of his shoe. PACIFICSUN’s theories below about the feather possibly sticking to his neck due to sweat, or via static electricity, are also plausible explanations.


        • Thanks, Sumo, for honoring me by watching the episode again only to answer my question. But it’s not quite right that Caldwell thinks Jessup has proof. Neither does Jessup. When Caldwell claims “You still haven’t given me any proof!”, Jessup says “I don’t need any proof. All I gotta do is go to the cops and confess to those first three robberies.” He makes it sound as if a confession such as “Hey, cops, t’was me again who robbed them houses, but I ain’t a murderer, so the husbands must have killed their wives themselves, move your asses and catch ’em!” would be enough to nail Caldwell and Halperin. That shouldn’t have convinced either of them, yet Caldwell gives in. A blackmail based on no proof should have Caldwell feel relieved. And I don’t see any logic in Halperin’s (acted) belief, Jessup would murder the women and then blackmail a widower of his victims. In that scenario (Jessup being thief and killer), Jessup would know Caldwell isn’t guilty, so why would Jessup confess to the robbery and blackmail Caldwell?
          In both cases it just doesn’t add up.

          Stuck to the shoe – yes, I can live with that excuse. Maybe the feather slipped between shoe and sock. Still an unlucky coincidence that it fell off just there where Columbo can find it. I can feel the author’s need to somehow push Columbo into Danziger’s direction to make him a suspect. The feather is not the greatest suspicion ariser of the season.

          • Hi Columbologist,

            You’re exactly right, that Caldwell tells indeed Jessup “You still haven’t given me any proof”, and Jessup replies “I don’t need any proof. All I gotta do is go to the cops and confess to those first three robberies.” However, given Caldwell’s mental state and fragile paranoia by this point, I can accept how Caldwell crumbles, and agrees to pay Jessup off. To me, ever since Caldwell killed his wife (accidentally, as he explains to Halperin in the very beginning, in the heat of an violent argument) Caldwell clearly is shell-shocked and a nervous wreck. He is utterly guilt-ridden, scared, and he relies on Halperin to guide him by the hand from this point forward. He is totally paranoid that the truth may somehow eventually come out that he killed his wife. So when Jessup makes a completely convincing assertion that he’s willing to confess to police about the first three robberies, because for him to go back to prison isn’t any real punishment (which would be a absolute life-changing nightmare for someone like Caldwell) I can accept the fact the Caldwell agrees to pay him off if he thinks it will keep Jessup quiet. Also, Caldwell knows that as soon as he leaves the bar and gets into Halperin’s car he’ll be able to discuss things further with Halperin. He doesn’t have the sharp, conniving, devious logic of somehow like Halperin, who, if Jessup had made this threat to Halperin, would be able to make sense of the entire situation and call Jessup’s bluff.

            I don’t see this as Caldwell confessing to Jessup, or an admission of guilt – he never admits that he killed his wife. I see it more as a way for a rich guy to pay a nominal penalty to get closure to a bad situation.

            I believe this happens in real life, even if the person is not a fault (example – an athlete or celebrity could falsely be accused of rape, and then blackmailed into being paid in order for the “victim” to keep silent. So they agree to pay in order to keep the situation from escalating into a legal battle with sensationalized headlines and unwanted media attention, even if they are totally innocent.)

            That’s my take, anyway. I wonder if any other viewers have a different opinion than either you or me.


            • Exactly because Caldwell acts like a nervous wreck, I cannot understand why Halperin, who is much more in control of the case, doesn’t give his friend the good advice not to confess anything unless Jessup has something more than only his weird accusations. Halperin should have said “Never deal with a criminal; he might change his mind before you do.” Halperin and Caldwell would have been safe in court, but I know Halperin has the urge to see the innocent Jessup caught and mistakenly convicted. A very dangerous plan. Maybe it would have been better for both, the case had ended up unsolved with no burglar ever caught. But surely this would have been no ending for us, the Columbo audience.

          • Regarding evidence, more fun is to ask the question, how would you do it?

            The writer got himself into a bind. The beauty of the crime (motivation) is old fashioned arrogance and deadliness. But the circumstantial evidence is very limited. You need the pillow to silence the gun. But how do you bridge strategy (Danzinger’s timing) versus serendipity (Columbo’s suspicion based on his instinct for human nature)! Only a few elements are even possible. (One) that somebody identifies him running up the stairs. Being as (supposedly) ill as he was supposed to be, that alone would be a red flag. (2) If the nurse checked his vitals on return, and they were very high, that could’ve been a red flag. Why do you think the writer didn’t go that route? (3) Put a smudge of lipstick on the outside of his wrist (sometimes lipstick will get messy within the holder). In Danzinger’s desperation, he might not have caught the smudge. But then Columbo would’ve needed to be close enough to notice anyway.

            The problem is, I don’t think it should’ve been one single (lightweight) feather. But a clump stuck to the bottom of his shoes, from some moisture on the floor (condensation from a drinking glass)? However that would’ve taken (2) more steps (running time) because Columbo would’ve needed an opportunity to see Danziner’s shoes (or slippers) upside down, and probably half way under the bed. Columbo would’ve needed the opportunity to “push” his familiarity to get close enough. But he’d already alienated himself by asking Danzinger the stupid question about directions!

            I’m not defending the writer’s use of a weak connection, just explaining how very limited television running time is for allowing (perhaps) a more logical analysis. If they had done it alternatively, the something else would need to be sacrificed. So what other scene could’ve been cut short, or out?

            If fact, how should this act in the episode have been rewritten? Both to accommodate Danzinger as a clever, diabolical killer, and showcase Columbo’s intuitive skills?

            Not so easy, is it! 😉

            Because you have to think like a writer (and not a viewer)!!

            • If I had to rewrite the script, I would put the seasick Columbo on the ship’s hospital station during the time Danziger returns from his crime. Columbo always manages to be at the right place at the right time, so why is he out of timing here and visits the nurse after the murder and not during the murder due to the constant movement of the “Sun Princess” and his vulnerable condition?

              • 😉 Good try, but not sure if we’ve turned you into a real story editor just yet.

                Here’s the writer’s dilemma. Or rather the perspective from which he chooses to construct his crime.

                If there was any reason or circumstance for Danzinger to be noticed, other than being virtually incapacitated by his assumed diagnosis, the crime could not have been committed. The success of it rested on the intended disassociation of Danzinger from its physicality.

                Danzinger had to creep back into his room behind the nurse’s back, who was in the room opposite, reading and smoking, where he counted on the time between having his vitals taken. In fact his door was ajar, not only so that he knew when it was safe to leave, but that there were no other complications involved. However, in keeping with the idea of not disturbing a patient needing rest, if any other patient had come to the infirmary, most likely Danzinger’s door would’ve been shut, for his privacy and the other guest. Privacy would’ve been a big factor.

                Had there been any observed movement of Danzinger either within or from outside the infirmary) he would’ve become a suspect quickly, once his connection to the prior cruise, the singer, and she being his affair, had been unraveled. But gathering all that information would’ve meant, not only a lot time, but less action within the episode.

                Which is because research is tedious and boring. And to get there, the necessity of dialogue (beyond the scene itself) would’ve deadened the pace. And made the viewer less involved. TV is about being in the moment, whereas print allows the reader to shift back and forth, multi-dimensionally. Meaning there’s more fun in watching the inner workings of Columbo’s mind as he stumbles across possibilities. And how he puts the puzzle together … until no more pieces are needed. Which is why easy visuals are key!! 😉 From the most obvious observations (including the pool, infirmary, risky transition, pillow, lipstick and his return) compared to a tiny feather. Which was not meant to minimize a clue – but to enhance Columbo’s focus on anything – not meant to be obvious!!

                So I think the writer was offering a story within those particular parameters.

                • Many could’s and would’s are going to come now 🙂
                  Danziger’s plan is risky from the very beginning. There are a lot of factors he couldn’t be sure of: Would he be able to get hold of Mr Watkins’ master key unrecognized to make his own key? Would he be the only patient on the infirmary? Would patsy Lloyd Harrington be on his own during the break of the band and have no alibi? Would Melissa turn her back to Danziger’s room while reading? Would he run into someone who knows him on his way to Rosanna’s room and back? After all has turned out so unbelievably fine for him, it would have been a great destroyer in the final seconds, if the seasick lieutenant had just been there before Danziger returned. If Columbo had heard Melissa ordering Danziger not to walk across the station in his condition (“Mr Danziger, the doctor told you not to stand up! You are way too sick!”), it could have arisen Columbo’s attention just like the feather did, he could still have put the puzzle together and we would have less coincidence involved. And it would suit Columbo’s character to be the only seasick patient in the first night of the cruise.
                  Still it would have been a long way for Columbo to find out where Danziger went while he was supposed to rest.

                  • LOL! Well I can see why they call you the Columbologist!! I appreciate the playful bantering back & forth – thank you!! I wouldn’t have done this with any other episode except for being such a fan of Robert Vaughn, and because of his working together with Peter Falk!

                    Fictional crimes are always a matter of opportunity and convenience. The writer probably had a whiteboard full of circumstances that could’ve gone wrong, checking them off one-by-one with plausible excuses. Or rationality.

                    The nurse (still within earshot) turned her back for his own privacy. But it’s mostly because of Danzinger’s previous cruise that he had timed some things out, and studied routines. He did pass someone on the stairs, but held the tray up to his face. Those stairs (I believe) were used by staff, not passengers. Rosanna’s quarters were in the staff section, not with the guests. It all turned out “unbelievably convenient” because that WAS the crime. Or it wouldn’t have existed so anonymously (at least on a cruise ship)!

                    However I completely agree with your solution, that it almost would’ve been more exciting if seasickness put Columbo in the infirmary, where Danzinger’s movement (however it played out) would make him a very curious suspect, and worthy of research.

                    That part of solving the crime would’ve included conversations to learn about the relationships & history. The running time for all that to play out could’ve been added by subtracting time from the entertainment sequence. That “Volare” song went on endlessly, and was the magic act necessary? That a cruise already has compelling and very talented entertainment is a given, we don’t need to watch what seemed like “10 minutes” of it demonstrated!

                    To your point about it being a long stretch to figure out where Danzinger went (and returned from) is true! But am betting he could’ve said that he needed to check on something (very personal) in his stateroom! (Remember, there were no cell phones to summon up assistance! And the nurse wouldn’t have let him go!).

                    Which made it all the more necessary for the feather to exist, to “suggest” his presence in Rosanna’s room.

                    Although not as a single feather, but a clump of them stuck to the underside of his shoes/slippers (because of moisture from spilled in the room). To notice that clue, once Danzinger returned hastily had carelessly tossed off his footware, you’d have to make Columbo wandering around the infirmary for some odd reason. Like from seasickness and disorientation. Perhaps while waiting for the nurse who was called away temporarily. By making Columbo ending up in Danzinger’s room, he could’ve dropped something (a pen) that rolled under the bed near the footware. and Columbo’s line could be (“oh pardon me, didn’t know you were here”). In the next breath, figuring out a brash excuse to dive for his “pen” to get close enough to see the clue. I mean what could Danzinger say, “get away from my shoes…and outta here!” (?). That really would’ve put him on Columbo’s radar.

                    Okay, I think we’ve both successfully rewritten those Acts.

                    • Ah yeah, the God forsaken tray! I was always wondering why it was resting there on the stairway. A tray belongs either next to the caboose or to a hungry client. And what a lucky bastard this Hayden Danziger is: He runs into the lonesome tray exactly when he needs it to cover his face.
                      We (the rewriters) could turn Danziger’s excuse “I was checking something personal” into something feigned, if we put enough sweat on his forehead for Columbo to notice. Checking something private could be done without any hurry.
                      No need for the feather in my script.

                      The magician act is necessary to introduce the second real gun on board that will be crucial in the end.

                      I am a Robert Vaughn fan, too; I just bought the DVD “Bullitt” because of him.
                      I call Columbologist myself; nobody else does. 😉

        • Halperin asking specifically for Columbo provided one of the great (but underplayed) Columbo clues: the fact that Halperin asked for a homicide detective after supposedly witnessing a burglary. If anything, more should have been made of this fact. Columbo mentions it almost as an aside, rather than exploiting the clue’s full dramatic effect. I would have saved it for the very end — until after the gotcha — one of those final “when did you know?” moments. It could have made a terrific last line.

        • Two points about that episode that troubled me: One: It takes a lot to implicated a police commissioner and it seemed unlikely that the other officers at the apartment would have been so quick to take Columbo’s word for it when it came to Halperin’s guilt and Two: That was one grungy looking apartment for a police lieutenant to live in. Hard to believe that Columbo and his wife (and their kids?) lived in it…and had just moved in.

          • Don’t feel too bad for Columbo’s living conditions. Accepted canon is that he rented the apartment on a short-term lease purely for the sting operation and kitted it out with his stuff to complete the illusion. I’m sure he and Mrs C had a nice little house somewhere.

      • I am just bought the complete series on DVD and am watching thru season three as of the present time.
        Going in i always thought of the Johnny Cash one and Robert Conrad ones as my favorites along with Jack Cassidy as the magician. I will come back and pick one as my favorite as I continue watching all of these.
        I often thought the murders gave up too easily on some of the shows.

    • You’re spot on with your ‘innocent victims’ comments. Blythe Danner gives the best ‘supporting female’ performance of the lot. Her entire demeanour, where she’s already suspected he’s guilty – dictates the gotcha. Like a woman who’s husband played around – she was keen for proof, so her nightmare was open

      Jannette Nolan was also superb as the highly strung housekeeper in ‘Double Shock’ – again her final look of despair as she realised the truth, really tugged at the heartstrings

      Just found this great poster for that. Make me want to watch it again!!

      • Ha, really cool poster. I never knew they made things like that for TV shows, but when you think of it the 70’s Columbos were so well done, they were like movies in a way. When my daughter was in design school she made a Columbo poster for me, if i had any remote computer skills i would share it….but alas….i don’t.

        • It is quite remarkable how ‘on’ they were. Our host commented how black men like me (previously portrayed as thugs / criminals etc and killed off after 10 minutes!!) were not only respected but fantastic political points made without ramming it down your throat (that’s how you do it BLM!!)

          The scene in ‘A Friend in Deed’ (I think!!) where the black man turns up and is immediately treated with suspicion by the cops – but Columbo tells them to back off and just take his details

          It was just ahead of its time. What show in the 70’s, do you get where females, blacks etc, were treated so fairly?

  7. As we debate the merits of who’s piece of gold is slightly shinier than another person’s piece of gold, let’s remember that, regrettably, no Columbo episode is perfect. Fans who have watched the 70s era multiple times should be able to point out the dings and dents in each mystery, and how it will affect a person’s liking of that episode will vary.

    Close readers of CP’s blog might be aware that Rich has already noted that his #1 “Murder By The Book” has a flaw (I won’t spoil it – see his 6/26 posting in “100 Greatest Scenes of the 70s Part 4”). And Rich is perfectly fine with keeping it his #1. As for my #1, “Suitable for Framing”, I will happily point to 2 not-tiny issues (and not the backwards plotting discussed below).

    *How does Columbo latch onto Kingston as the killer? A perfect episode would have a small clue that Columbo picks up – usually one ignored by other detectives – that points to the villain. I can’t find one here. You could argue that he focused on Kingston because of the assumed inheritance, but that’s something any standard-issue rookie could figure out. And besides, we know that motive gets blown up later in the episode.

    *In the episode, Columbo doesn’t break Kingston’s alibi. He never questions the time-of-death, never discovers a heated blanket in the house, never questions the coroner. We can infer that he retroactively “broke” the alibi by engineering the airtight Fingerprint Gotcha and realizing that there must have been a way for Kingston to shoot his uncle and fudge the time of death. A perfect simultaneous fix for both these issues would have been to have Columbo discover something at the crime scene that muddied the time-of-death. But alas, my time machine is inoperative today and I can’t go back to help Jackson Gillis write the episode.

    I try as hard as I can to convince 90s-era fans that the Classic Era is far superior, but I also know that my efforts will, for some, never succeed. But that’s the nature of differing opinions. There is no “perfect” Columbo. That’s just an illusion.

    • Isn’t it his interview with the parking kid that focuses his sights on Kingston? The obvious ruse to open the trunk? The old “my watch stopped” gambit to establish the time? The excessive tip (in 1971) to seal the memory? We know from other episodes that this kind of behavior puts Columbo on your tail.

      And you’re right about the flaw in MBTB. I’ve written about it several times. It doesn’t bother me because it’s a fairly subtle point. Agatha Christie was once confronted with a flaw in “The Mousetrap.” She was well aware of it, let it be because there was no way to fix it, and knew that very few viewers would ever notice. (She didn’t explain what the flaw was. I think I know, but can’t be sure.)

      I don’t consider my obsession with obvious backward plotting a flaw. It’s just something that stands out for me, and detracts from the goal of a seamless narrative. If I were to identify a flaw in SFF, it would be the character of Aunt Edna. Doesn’t a frame require a credible framee? Could anyone suspect Edna? Of course, she also has to be someone Columbo doesn’t suspect. So a very line must be drawn.

      This is a subject I had to deal with in my play “Framed.” ( How to create a character who could be a killer, or could have been framed, so that the audience will believe either outcome. It’s an interesting problem.

      • No doubt, his interview with the parking kid was, correctly, a factor in Columbo’s suspicions. But my strong impression is that he glommed onto Kingston very quickly at the crime scene. Certainly, Columbo’s initial pestering of Dale and the back-and-forth between them at least had all the familiar rhythms of the “I Know You Did It” Tango.

        And, since Kingston was doing some obvious alibi-establishing at the art show, why not have Columbo follow-up later on – anywhere, anytime – on how that alibi could be broken?

        As I say, ain’t no “perfect” Columbo episode.

        • To me it would be suspicious that the burglar/murderer would have taken only two paintings out of what was purported to be a priceless collection–and after vandalizing several others and the room. What was the point of cutting those other paintings out of their frames and leaving them? Of upsetting furniture and pulling out books? The paintings were right there; a burglar wouldn’t have to look for them. And it would seem unlikely that Uncle Rudy would have given him a struggle, especially a man with a gun. It seemed like Kingston was trying to create what he thought would be a typical burglary scene without realizing that it would be unnecessary. That would’ve made me suspicious right away even though I’m not Columbo.

          • You know, if the perfect crime “can” be designed, as we expect of these plots while taking them apart, then might as well commit the crime, right! Seldom are they perfect anyway.. In fact I think it’s closer to reality to actually have these little flaws that are so noticeable. Because something “perfect” isn’t always as enjoyable as is getting involved with the characters and the plot. And that’s exactly what Columbo fans are invited to do every week. As in, match your wits with Columbo! Enjoy the discoveries along the way! Writers WANT you to play along!

      • Just rewatched Columbo and Kingston at the crime scene, and I’d say that we’re both right. Columbo pegs Kingston almost immediately after finding out that he is probably in line for the inheritance. This is rather humdrum detecting, not as subtle an initial clue as other episodes: Ken Franklin driving back to LA instead of flying; Dr. Mayfield winding his clock as he hears about his nurse’s murder; Paul Gerard not seeing a doctor when he finds out his dinnermate was poisoned.

        Then, at the parking lot, Columbo sharpens his focus on Dale when he sees the lengths to which he established his alibi. But here’s the thing…..Kingston did establish his alibi! He was suspiciously obvious about it, but the burden of proof was on Columbo to then show how Kingston could be in two places at once. He never does. All we can do is infer that he does this later on after the Fingerprint Gotcha.

  8. Little late here, but I’m so glad to see ‘A Friend in Deed’ back in the top 10! Maybe my constant gushing over it here in the comments has had some effect. 😉

  9. “Murder by the Book” tops my list of all Columbos. I have watched it dozens of times, and can watch it dozens more. Here’s why:

    “Murder by the Book” is a brilliant variation on the mystery-writer-as-murderer trope from which we get which such stage classics as “Sleuth,” “Deathtrap,” and “Write My a Murder” (an Edgar Award-winning play by “Dial M” author Frederick Knott). [Columbo will use that trope again as well, in “Try and Catch Me.”] The formula goes: if you can plot the perfect murder, you can commit the perfect murder (or, as in “Deathtrap,” visa versa).

    But what if the mystery writer isn’t really a mystery writer? What if he’s the non-writing half of a team? Where does he get his perfect murder plot from then? “Your partner. Had to be.”

    The way MBTB’s solution was seamlessly woven into the rest of the episode was equally brilliant. Joanna’s description of Jim constantly coming up with ideas, leaving scraps of paper all over the house. Jim’s deja vu experience as he sees a five-year-old idea, barely remembered, start to unfold in reality. And it all comes together for Columbo with the discovery of a matchbook.

    Forcing Franklin to improvise a second murder was another great touch. It presented Columbo with the contrast between a carefully planned crime (the mystery writer’s hallmark) and one patched together on the fly.

    Some decry the “Murder by the Book” gotcha. I don’t. A step-by-step guide to Jim’s murder found among Jim’s story ideas, written in his own hand. Columbo only reads part of it, but you have to respect his statement that the full document describes the Ferris murder “practically word for word.” How is that possible? Who else could even have known of this proposed plot? Mystery writers don’t spread their as-yet-unused ideas around. Joanna? No, it was essential to the plan that she be an innocent dupe. And she had no motive. The only person who could have reproduced this plot (and had a clear motive) was Franklin. “With this, I think I got a conviction, don’t you?” Yes, I do.

    And then that’s topped by the best last lines in any Columbo: “You wanna know the irony of all this? That is my idea. The only really good one I ever had. I must’ve told it to Jim over five years ago. Whoever thought that idiot would write it down?” So Columbo’s underlying reasoning — why he searched through Ferris’ papers — was wrong. But it led him to the correct solution regardless. What a terrific final twist.

    In many Columbos, the final proof is created during the investigation, usually in response to something Columbo does. In others, that proof lies hidden from the time of the commission of the crime. In only two classic-era Columbos does the proof long predate the crime. It’s the hardest of all nuts to crack. “Murder by the Book” pulls it off. [The other episode is “The Greenhouse Jungle.”]

    Cue the typewriter keys. I think I’ll watch it again.

    • “Murder by the Book” is very enjoyable because of its atmosphere, the charisma of the dangerous villain, its visual appearance, its circumstances – but surely not because of its flawless plotting.

      “Whoever thought that idiot would write it down?” Didn’t Ken Franklin know the working habits of his long time companion? They seem to have a close friendly relationship from the first moment on, so I don’t buy it that Jim never scratched down his latest ideas while Ken was around or at least told him that he has a pile of written down story ideas waiting to be used sometime.

      Where is the claimed “contrast between a carefully planned crime and one patched together on the fly”? How carefully planned is the crime that Columbo finds brilliant under the glass? How is Columbo supposed to interpret the situation? Was Jim calling from his bureau while the professional killer (supposedly a stranger) was already sitting next to him or how did the killer enter the bureau? If not, if the door was open and the professional killer creeped in, why would he chose to endanger himself by letting the person on the other end of the line hear the shot? It feels like a killer asking “Please catch me!”, because the police could be at the supposed scene of the crime within three minutes. No time to search the bureau and to carry the body out of the building in broad daylight. And in case anyone would argue “Maybe Jim cheated on his wife and only pretended to be working while he was in fact amusing himself and was surprised by the killer elsewhere”, it wouldn’t convince Joanna and probably nobody who knew Jim as a loyal husband. And what about the time of death? In almost every “Columbo”, the time of death is part of the investigation, and here we could know the exact minute because we have an ear witness. But for some strange reason this doesn’t bother the great detective. The registered phone call from Ken’s cabin to Joanna would be at the exact point of time when she heard the shot – not some minutes before as Ken claims.
      To me the first crime is at least as sloppy as the second one, and I feel unforgivably manipulated.

    • Weird isn’t it? I can never get into this episode and think it’s the worst of the Jack Cassidy episodes, none of which get into my Top 30

      I think I just never took to the admittedly excellent Cassidy. I prefer my Columbo villains a bit more ‘quietly’ serious and their crimes / or motives more sophisticated. I can’t take any of the Cassidy killers seriously, to be honest

      They’re still great TV though!!

      • In some ways, you can’t help liking Cassidy’s characters in both Murder by the Book and Publish or Perish. They have great charisma and wit, “and in your condition, madam, I should see a plastic surgeon !” This then sits compellingly strangely with the brutality, for example, of bashing the delightful Lilli Lasanca with a champagne bottle.

      • Columbo was never intended to be gritty realism. At its peak, it was always highly theatrical. I’m trying to think of a single classic Columbo killer who, in real life, would actually do what they are portrayed doing. Even Columbo himself is, in great part, a mythological figure. That’s how Link and Levinson originally conceived him: a solitary man, armed only with his wits, appearing from nowhere, returning to nowhere. That’s why I often compare the best Columbo episodes to the great stage thrillers. They have many of the same brilliant qualities. It’s also a reason why the later Columbos were never as successful. Times had chanced. Cop shows had become closer to reality. Columbo was forced into a realm for which he never was intended.

        • Well said!

          In the enjoyment of our classic TV shows, of which Columbo is just one appearing on MeTV (USA) remember the era of the 60’s & 70’s as pure escapism!

          One of the first series to attempt to cross the line was Hill Street Blues (not a detective story) but about a police precinct with a chaotic mixture of mismatched, imperfect characters and activities. Usually without a resolution. More like being in the moment, a kind of anthology as it rolled forward week to week. Stringing along individual story arcs.

          Folks, enjoy what you have here concerning Columbo! Appreciate the imagination and atmosphere it created. And that it ran for so long!! Maybe for the sake of conversation, … overthink it sparingly.


          Happy Holidays to all!

          • Hill Street Blues is one of my all-time favorite shows. Wonderful writing, terrific acting, often shocking and tragic occurrences, and original and fascinating characters.

        • I think Columbo at it’s best has a fair degree of realism. Over the years, viewers were introduced to the wonders of gas powered vehicles, early robotics, franchise economics, subliminal cuts, body language, answer phones, fax machines, etc. The truly theatrical/ridiculous episodes, (eg Fade into Murder) haven’t aged so well.
          I also happen to think Columbo’s early commercial success was a matter of pure luck. I remember at the time that Columbo and raincoat were a regular topic for stand-up comedians of the day. In other words, the show managed to break through into popular culture, but only in it’s most superficial elements – which were then deliberately hammed up by the producers as the quality declined and the battle for ratings became more desperate. Fortunately for us, a good handful of enduring masterpieces were also somehow created in those early years.

        • I never said I wanted “gritty realism”.

          There is plenty of movement between the over-theatrical (significantly I’m not a fan or the theatre) Jack Cassidy scripts that suit his acting style and gritty realism of say something like Boardwalk Empire!!

          I also disagree that it’s a struggle to think of a killer that would do what the Columbo ones do in real life.

          Quite the opposite for me and that’s where we differ. I have to believe in the killers and their motives / actions have to be largely plausible and just as importantly their errors fit in with the character. Rumford was caught out exactly because of his obsession with discipline – which is why he killed in the first place

          Some laugh and scoff at this and just pick holes in plots to prove their points, but there are enough real killers with ‘plots’ far worse

          Take ‘Etude in Black’ which often gets toasted for the so called flimsy ending. The reason why Benedict accepted his fate was because of his emotional attachment to his wife (brilliantly played by Blythe Danner – and Gwyneth Paltrow!!). His murder was desperate and sloppy. But real – because that’s what a lot of killers are like. Benedict, simply loved his wife, panicked to protect that. Columbo’s skill and what makes the series is he picks at any weakness and often these are psychological

          So all my favourites tend to follow a similar theme, entertaining but grounded in some kind of multi-coloured realism as opposed to one-dimensional motivations

          • And that’s why I love “By Dawn’s Early Light” (No. 3 on my list after “Book” and “Friends”). The most potent motive for murder, I believe, is self-preservation. Col. Rumford embodied that on a grand scale. (That’s also why Alex Benedict killed. Not because of his wife; because of his mother-in-law.) But too many upper-class fictional murders (including on Columbo) are supposedly based on rich people looking to get richer, or unhappily married people looking for a way out, or as the solution to other problems that could be solved another way. Why a husband needs to murder his rich wife (Ray Flemming, Mark Halperin, Paul Galesko) is often difficult to fathom. And these are among the best Columbos.

            • Fleming – Because his wife said she would ruin his reputation

              Halperin – Because she would never agree to divorce and it was her money. He simply disliked her because he resented her spending it on good causes rather than him. Fits in with his totally selfish ‘devil’ like personality

              Galesko – It’s obvious his wife would not go quietly

              You forget that in the times these were set, reputation was sadly everything and scandals finished your career

              • “She would never agree to divorce” — one of the great (and often laziest) murder mystery cliches — made no sense in California in 1974. California went to no-fault divorce in 1970. The law allowed one spouse to dissolve a marriage for any reason, or for no reason at all.

                • This is why, as much as I love “Negative Reaction,” I find it hard to understand Galesko’s murder of his wife. It might have been the case if she was rich and supporting him in making art, but that’s never said, so we’re left wondering why he took such a drastic action.

      • I agree that “Murder by the Book” and “Now You See Him” are the less successful Cassidy episodes, because both manipulate the viewer. In “Now You See Him” the viewer is supposed to accept that Santini’s water tank trick is an outstanding trick. It isn’t. As Santini himself does not reappear out of the tank but his daughter does, his audience must know that a switch of persons has taken place and that Santini probably was not in the water tank, which makes his “best alibi of all” worthless. If at least the illusion was sustained that in fact Santini has been caught in the tank, the trick could have been any closer to perfect. The first and the third Cassidy episode are in my B list, but the complex plot of “Publish or Perish” makes it a Top Ten candidate.

        • I love blueprint for murder i think it one of the slightly underrated gems of the seventies , i find it entertaining and never dull and I prefer it over over an excersise in fatality which is in 10 th .

    • Murder by the Book is sheer class, and for several years was my number 1. As with a handful of other classic early seventies episodes, I think it bears critical comparison with the great cinema films of the era. A lot of the clever dialogue is now lodged permanently in my brain, “Sir, if you could just go over it one more time – I know you did it !”
      The only reason it is displaced is the issue/artifice of novelists/publishers becoming the subject. (Having said that, my two favourite novels, Long Goodbye and Independence Day both concern writers or ex writers as subjects.)
      For my taste, an episode like Double Exposure – incorporating “a new but inexact science called body language” – would have been quite cutting edge at the time, and these highly authentic films combine social and economic historical fascination as well as ageless style and panache.

    • Jim’s déjà-vu. I didn’t pay attention to that sentence, but you’re right. Those small elements work like the small papers Jim wrote.

    • To be honest it’s a toss up between that and ‘A Friend in Deed’. It’s just a brilliant hoot. Right from the brilliant start and the brutal killing and all the way through, you’re riveted to the TV

    • “Suitable for Framing” is No. 4 on my list. It’s an excellent episode. I love the fact that we don’t know Kingston’s complete plan at the beginning. Is he foiled by the change to Rudy’s will? No. That was part of his plan all along. He wanted the guard to hear the sound of Tracy’s high heels on the steps. (In other words, it’s only mid-episode that we learn “Framing” in the title doesn’t only refer to works of art.)

      It doesn’t rank higher on my list because the backwards plotting is a bit too obvious. We’re going to nail Kingston with Columbo’s fingerprints on the Degas pastels. How do we get those prints onto the paintings? We put Columbo inside Kingston’s apartment when Kingston returns with them, and have Columbo shove his hand (rather obnoxiously) into a bag Kingston is holding. But why would Columbo be in Kingston’s empty apartment? We’ll include a scene where Kingston gives him a key (which, in retrospect would be inexplicable, but may appear less so at the time), and have Columbo pretend to fall asleep. (Kudos to Falk and Martin for pulling off the studio scene, that sets this entire series of events into motion, so well.) It’s all too conveniently plot driven. The gloves reveal at the end does salvage a lot of it, but not all of it.

      • Richard, it is not inexplicable that Kingston gives Columbo his key. If Kingston had waited until he comes home to welcome Columbo after Kingston’s work, Kingston would have had the opportunity to remove the stolen paintings from his house if they had been hidden there already, and this wouldn’t prove Kingston’s innocence. So to convince Columbo that Kingston has nothing to hide, he offers him a house search before Columbo can even ask for it. Too perfect!
        Does Columbo really pretend to fall asleep? How could he be certain that it would be crucial to act as if he were fallen asleep in that night? I think he really fell asleep and shoves his hand into the bag with no second thoughts.

        Firstly, I love the title, which is a word game and can be understood in two ways. Then I love the surprising opening with the killing before one word is spoken. I love the art milieu and that Kingston makes no mistakes. He does everything a bit too perfect – that’s what makes him suspicious to Columbo. It’s Columbo, who pushes him into the corner, not Kingston’s own stupidity. Columbo refuses to suspect Edna although the planted evidence should make him suspect her, especially because he needs to catch someone. And it’s Columbo’s enthusiasm towards art that makes him grab like a child after some of the planted evidence before it is planted. So we can’t accuse Kingston for being careless. The dialogues are funny, the plot is pure gold and of course the gotcha is the best gotcha of the series and easily the strongest Columbo moment of them all.

        • But Columbo isn’t asking to search, only to look at art books. And there’s no indication he does search. We accept that scene because we don’t yet know it’s narrative purpose. Once we do, it looks more functional than character driven.

          As to the “gotcha,” I don’t consider this “the best gotcha of the series.” I agree that the gloves reveal is the best Columbo moment of them all — but the gloves reveal is not the “gotcha” (i.e., the final “pop” clue that nails the killer). That’s finding Columbo’s fingerprints on the painting. That’s what nails Kingston. The gloves are a coup de grâce, but Kingston is already “gotten” before this. As for pure “gotchas,” I rank “Candidate for Crime,” “Deadly State of Mind,” and “A Friend in Deed” higher.

          • The scene can still look character driven if you look at it this way: Kingston wants Columbo to search his house and to find nothing there, and as long as Tracy takes care of the paintings, it would be the ideal point of time for the house search. And after Columbo has claimed to exclude Kingston as a possible murderer because of his alibi, Kingston thankfully attacks Columbo’s impertinence to have suspected Kingston and demands a house search to prove he is innocent, knowing that after he will have murdered Tracy, his house wouldn’t be clean any longer. Kingston knows he hasn’t much time, so he urges Columbo to search his house and later Edna’s.

            Kingston is not gotten before the gloved hand reveal, because clever as he is, he finds his loophole.
            The ending is so grand because after the “pop clue” (Columbo’s fingerprints), where the story could have ended perfectly fine, Kingston doesn’t give up and quick-wittedly comes up with an even better brain wave to destroy the splendid, strong evidence. Already feeling safe in doing so, he thinks he has averted his arrest, and then another fantastic twist puts Columbo in the winning position back again, and this time Kingston has nothing more to say to his excuse. There is no better way to finish off a mystery.

            • “You-you-you-you touched those paintings just now while I wasn’t looking. You saw him do it, didn’t you?” “No, Dale, I didn’t.” “Nor did I, Mr. Kingston.” “I didn’t either.” Hardly a loophole. Granted, the visual of the gloves made a much more effective tag, but it was still a tag. (And what if Kingston hadn’t limited his accusation to “just now”? What if he’d said, “You touched those paintings before, left, and then came back in the house”? The gloves would have laid an egg. Come to think of it, where WAS Columbo an hour before?)

              As for Kingston wanting his place search, he certainly wouldn’t be the first Columbo killer too egocentric to understand that few things make you look guiltier than trying to prove your innocence before anyone accuses you of anything.

              Look, I like this episode. I prefer only three others over it. And if you would like me to tell you why “Murder by the Book” is the best of them all, just say the word.

              • … “I didn’t neither.” – “Well, then like me you all were distracted by the situation. We were looking at each other and nobody took notice of Lt. Columbo’s dirty little trick movements.”
                It would still be a loophole.

                How could Columbo have touched the paintings in Edna’s house an hour before if Edna was shopping then? He didn’t even want to search her house. And if Columbo had touched the paintings an hour before, he would also have needed them to be found an hour before and left them hidden. But there was no house search at that time and he wouldn’t have had a reason to ignore the unearthed evidence an hour before.

                There are too many loose ends in “Murder by the Book” to deserve the title “best episode”. Columbo calls the first murder plan a clever one although it isn’t: Why would professional killers shoot their victim while it is on the phone, draw attention to their crime (because the person on the line would naturally call the police immediately) and risk to be caught, before they are out of the building carrying the dead body? What if Jim Ferris’ stunned last words would have been: “Ken, what the hell are you doing?” And what necessity for Ken was there to stop at La Sanka’s with somebody in his car who should not have been seen by anyone? A sloppy plan, just like the second one. The best Columbo episode cannot live with two sloppy plans – it needs a perfect murder.

            • I think the way Kingston behaves in the “gotcha” scene gives him away. Most Columbo killers keep their cool even while Columbo is nailing them. Kingston doesn’t. His face and voice reveal desperation when he yells that Columbo touched the paintings while Dale wasn’t looking–just before Columbo reveals his gloves.

      • Agreed, there’s a bit of backwards plotting that needs to happen to make the gotcha work. However, this doesn’t bother me because it’s completely consistent with the psychological ploys Columbo uses to unnerve each villain. Kingston stepped into it when he volunteered his key – jokingly, of course, but Columbo (not one to pass up an opportunity) plays it totally straight and accepts the offer, backing Dale into a corner where reneging on the offer would suddenly look suspicious. (And at the time, Kingston didn’t have any evidence in his apartment anyway, so what’s to lose?)

        Whether Columbo actually fell asleep at Kingston’s or faked it is irrelevant….he’s there, and it’s part of his psychological bag of tricks to keep popping up in each killer’s path at every opportunity. Handling the paintings? Columbo had no way of knowing how important that would be, but invading the killer’s personal space is totally consistent with Columbo’s modus operandi. In this case, it paid huge dividends beyond unsettling Kingston.

        In Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Goren character chews up a lot of scenery, but I always get a kick at how he finds imaginative ways to invade a suspect’s personal space, a psyop (psychological operation) Columbo employed long before. I’ve been doing some casual research about Columbo’s psychological warfare and can pinpoint other tactics as they arise in our Comments discussions.

        “Suitable for Framing” is my #1.

        • Suitable for Framing is also my number 1, and I think a lot of credit has to go to the performance of Ross Martin. In fact, I would even put him ahead of the mighty Casavettes, Cassidy, Conrad or Culp (in strict alphabetical order). Martin’s eyes seem to have a slightly dulled, reptilian look – which may or may not indicate sociopathic tendencies.

          • I think Ross Martin is the best of the one-time murderers. A fantastic performance, he succeeds is making Dale a truly loathsome adversary with a perfect combination of erudite snobbery, arrogance and backstabbing. It makes his comeuppance a sensation.

    • Hmmmm, I hit the Post in the middle of a sentence and didn’t change my handle. Careful there, Glenn.

      CP, to answer the question you posed at the end….yes, I would absolutely advocate for having this list every year. The episode listing may not change much, but your reading audience does. I’d rather see a new posting every December and the fresh comments of the new/recent Columbophile fans, rather than having folks make their comments in an old posting where they might get buried. I suspect that most fans out there will be in agreement on this.

        • Do you add this year’s votes to a running all-time tally, or are the rankings posted here a reflection of 2020-cast votes only?

          If the former, do you know the top 5 vote-getters over the past 12 months? If the latter, are you able to access past years’ results to create a 5-year tally (even if that requires including multiple votes from long-time site followers)?

          • It’s an all-time tally. I can’t tell from the back-end which episodes got the most votes this year, although I’d hazard a guess that the top 3 still got the most votes in order. Double Exposure really closed the gap on the perennial top 11, so would probably a top 5 vote amasser. I’d guess A Friend in Deed would also be in the top 5 after screaming back up the rankings.

  10. I’m surprised that By Dawn’s Early… not higher up in the rankings also the one filmed in London, Dagger of the Mind, a scream, also the one concerning the Whiskey drinking gun runner and another two favourites, the one about modern art critic and the one starring the actor, as guest, from the feature film Fahrenheit 451.
    Keep up the good work!!

    • To fill in the holes: You are talking about “Suitable for Framing” (indeed the very best episode), about “The Conspirators” (a delight for the Irish, for poets and for me) and about the great Oskar Werner in the great “Playback”.
      The less serious “Dagger of the Mind” certainly is no candidate for the Top Ten.

  11. My Top 10 (for it’s worth!!)

    1 – A Friend in Deed
    2 – Suitable For Framing
    3 – An Exercise in Fatality
    4 – Troubled Waters
    5 – Identity Crisis
    6 – Make Me a Perfect Murder
    7 – Candidate for Crime
    8 – By Dawns Early Light
    9 – It’s All in the Game
    10 – The Most Crucial Game

    And the much derided The Most Dangerous Match, is at No 12

    • The excellent verbal chess game “The Most Dangerous Match” is my No 12, too. And 6 entries of your Top Ten are included in my A list, the other 4 (“A Friend in Deed”, “An Exercise in Fatality”, “Troubled Waters” and “Make Me a Perfect Murder”) in my B list. And we have the same favourite out of the 2nd era: “It’s All in the Game”. Yes, it is.

      • Glad I’m so aligned with such a connoisseur of the series!!

        I was always surprised that ‘The Most Dangerous Match’, yielded so many average comments

        I like the constantly tortured anguish of Clayton made better because he puts on this arrogantly dismissive armour. Which is fooling no-one of course, least of all Columbo, who clocks on to him brilliantly quickly

        The scene just before the gotcha, when he’s showing off to all those chess players, is easily in my Top 100 scenes. The way Columbo gets under his skin and makes goads him into an error (which is what Columbo was wanting) is great TV

        The gotcha gets a lot if stick. I get it, but I do still love it. Those saying he’d had noticed that the grinder had turned itself off, due to the lack of vibrations, forget that when you’re in a rage and cornered your senses are probably switched off

        The others just outside making up my Top 20 (along with ‘Deadly State..’) are Negative Reaction, Playback, Any Old Port in a Storm, Swan Song, Forgotten Lady, Etude in Black, Requiem for a Falling Star and A Stitch in Crime

        So apart from ‘It’s all in the Game’ and ‘Make Me a Perfect Murder’ (significantly featuring two great actresses of their time as killers) they are all from the first five series

        • Emmet Clayton is the murderer which I hate the most for what he did in a “Columbo”. His victim was so nice to him! Seeing him caught causes great satisfaction. And yes, you mentioned the best scene of the movie. It’s the checkmate scene before the gotcha.
          My second league, still all A’s, features:

          20: A Deadly State of Mind (second best gotcha of the series)
          19: Negative Reaction
          18: Forgotten Lady
          17: Lady in Waiting
          16: Any Old Port in a Storm
          15: Identity Crisis
          14: The Most Crucial Game
          13: Murder – a Self Portrait
          12: The Most Dangerous Match
          11: Columbo Cries Wolf

          • Thanks for reminding me about that four move checkmate that Emmet falls for. With all the buzz about chess from the excellent Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, I will give TMDM another watch.

    • I have a slight problem with Friend in Deed, although there are superb performances from several of the support actors in this episode. The whole idea of the Chief of Police being the suspect/murderer just doesn’t sit well. Also, I wasn’t particularly happy about the Columbos living in a skid row apartment – surely a lieutenant on the force would have a bungalow in the Valley or Santa Monica ?
      My favourite episodes often have a relevant connection with the socio-economic trends of the era – eg Double Exposure/new marketing techniques, Exercise in Fatality/ franchising, Framing and Etude/the booming arts scene. This was also very much a feature of the Perry Masons from the late fifties/early sixties – where you actually get a vivid sense of the huge wealth being created in the private sector in post war California.

      • Columbo doesn’t actually live in the apartment, he was just renting it temporarily in order to trick Halperin. He mentions that he only signed the lease a couple of days ago.

        • Just a thought: When Columbo shows his underwear, he misses the opportunity to present a photo of his wife. Columbo could tease us (again!) by showing it to Halperin but not to the camera. This way, the ending could have been even better.

    • 1. Double Exposure ( don’t know why)
      2. Any Old Port….classic
      3. Murder By The Book…a better ending it would be #1
      4. Stitch In Crime…Nimoy & Falk= Gold!
      5. Swan Song…..I mean Johnny Cash…..c’mon
      6. A Friend In Deed…this is 6?….what a series!
      7. Suitable For Framing…see #2
      8. Death Lends A Hand….Need more Culp
      9. Noe You See Him….Need more Cassidy
      10. What a Series…i guess Blueprint For Murder…

      • Blueprint doesn’t get mentioned much, but it’s definitely top ten material. I think Peter Falk was the director – and the silent queuing scene was copied from Jean Luc Goddard.

        • Yes Blueprint is a very entertaining episode with a very good ending. Patrick O’Neil did a great job in it as well as Make Me A Perfect Murder which would be around 15th for me. Peter Falk did direct Blueprint, you are correct.

          • I love “Blueprint for Murder”, it’s my number 28 (too many masterpieces around). My only problem with it is: I myself listen to classics and to country a lot. I like both. So Columbo’s final statement that Carnegie and Nashville wouldn’t match, is clearly wrong. But in case of Beau Williamson, we know that the thought is correct as we have the young widow’s word that she failed in trying to recommend serious music.

  12. It’s not surprising to see how the list played out. So many of the villains are already our favorites from classic TV shows anyway, like the shows that still entertain us (on MeTV, etc.).

    Nice compilation, thank you for providing it to us. Wouldn’t it be great if MeTV (USA) ran a marathon of the top 10 highest voted!!

    • It would be great if MeTV would show all of the episodes instead of cycling only a chosen number of them.

  13. Is there a feasible means whereby readers can vote, say, for their top three episodes, ranked 1, 2, and 3 — with the results weighted in some responsible way (which others probably know more about than I)? I’m sure that would change the overall ranking.

    My top episode is “Murder by the Book.” My No. 2 is “A Friend in Deed”; my No. 3 is “By Dawn’s Early Light.” As things stand now, if “A Friend in Deed” we’re everyone’s second favorite episode, for example, that fact would have zero effect on its final ranking. That doesn’t sound right.

    • Correct. Just because “Strange Bedfellows” is nobody’s top favorite and therefore gets zero votes, that doesn’t automatically make it the overall least cherished episode. To achieve a solid ranking, everybody would have to have his own list and 69 votes from 1 to 69 points.

      • I wouldn’t go that far. I have a top 10 list. I could make a top 15 list, maybe a top 20. After that, personal rankings cease to matter much. They imply distinctions which aren’t worth making. So — which ranks higher to me: “Dead Weight,” “Mind Over Mayhem,” “Lovely But Lethal,” or “Old Fashioned Murder” (to cite a few examples)? They’re all equally mediocre.

    • I asked a similar question, ie a readers Top 10 and then a grand score and a true ranking

      I understand it’s quite a lot of work, but I wonder if any IT expert fans could help

      It would be fascinating

      • Alternate suggestion: Each voter should rate each episode with A, B, C, D or Z, as Columbophile divides his Top 69 in A list, B list, C list, D list and Z list.
        A: outstanding
        B: superior to the lot
        C: still quite a goodie
        D: mediocre
        Z: a torture

        My only Z case would be “Murder in Malibu”, as my current place 68 (“Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star” already features some quality.

        • I just want to stand up for Murder of a Rock Star – in fact it’s probably my favourite of the “new” Columbos. Dabney Coleman and Shera Danese are both outstanding, and there is an all time great scene of them together – where she is putting the squeeze on him. I also like the dining club scene where Columbo says he isn’t very hungry – then orders massive steak dinner, with both Coleman and waiter playing it very straight.

          • Hugh Creighton’s alibi construction is the least believable of all episodes. Or would you put a photo without observation slits in front of your face and then participate in the road traffic, not even knowing what for? Don’t throw your life away, Mark! 😉

            • Generally, I’m more interested in character than plot. The exception to this is if I feel I’m being manipulated, or if something just seems completely out of place. (An example of the latter is being asked to believe that Columbo and his wife lived in the shabby apartment in Friend in Deed.) When re-watching favourite episodes, I often skip the gotcha/finale moments – because this element holds little interest to me !

              • Yes, it always bothered me that we see Columbo at home in “A Friend in Deed” and that this shabby apartment is supposed to be his new home after having moved in there recently. Maybe he had a crisis with his wife and wanted to live alone for a while? No, that wouldn’t suit him.

                I feel unforgivably manipulated by Columbo’s suspicion in “Now You See Him” that the murderer had to be an expert in breaking locks because of the position of the body. Columbo breaks his head how Jesse Jerome might have ended up there and doesn’t think of the most obvious option: Jesse could have opened the door, saw the threat and stepped a few steps backwards in panic. Voilà, no need for a magician to be the killer. This is cheating on the bright minds of Columbo viewers.

                I have never heard of this kind of watching Columbo, doing without the ending, which is often the highlight of the script.

                • Well, the point is that the gotcha/ending is just a theatrical device to enable an otherwise believable play to be compressed into a 90 minute format. What maintains the interest is the credibility of the basic story and motivation of the characters – and this can overcome any number of plot loopholes. Once these elements are satisfied, I can then enjoy the humour and panache (which abound in Suitable for Framing, for example). I am perfectly prepared to believe in Dabney Coleman for example as a successful lawyer who is driven by jealousy to murder.

                • A lot of viewers seem to be confused by the apartment scene. Maybe it could have been explained better in the script (e.g. instead of Columbo saying “I live here”, he could have said something like “This is my apartment–I just rented it.”

        • My first Z would be Last Salute to the Commodore. I haven’t seen many of these episodes in decades, so I haven’t identified any other “worsts” yet.

  14. Can’t quibble generally with the Top 10, although personally I would have found a way to bump up “Suitable for Framing” and “Double Exposure”. I’d definitely drop “Try and Catch Me”, which I suspect is as high as it is because of Ruth Gordon – the actual clue-mastering by Columbo is relatively tame in that one.

    For all the bricks we deservedly throw at the excruciating “Last Salute to the Commodore”, I find it astonishing that there are nine (!) 70s episodes percentage-wise ranked below it on the final list (results can be seen on the “What’s Your Ultimate Favourite Columbo Episode?” page by clicking View Results). CP, without revealing actual raw vote totals for the episodes, would it be possible to know how many votes separated “Salute” from the lowest 70s ep, “A Matter of Honor”? I’m thinking that it can’t be much more than a handful.

  15. All 10 of these are superb episodes, i’m a little surprised Double Exposure didn’t make the top ten but with so many classic episodes it’s understandable.

  16. Thanks for the flowers, gentlemen, but already next month there could be slight variations; my Top 69 is always dynamic, never static, not even in its upper regions.

    • Don’t get me wrong. I like “Any Old Port in a Storm.” I like it a lot. It ranks in my top 10 Columbos, and is in a constant battle with “Troubled Waters” for No. 5. What I don’t understand is why viewers rank it as No. 1.

      Whatever the attraction of the characters, the performances, the Columbo-villain relationship, etc., doesn’t the quality of the mystery have to be better for an episode to reach No. 1?

      Both ends of the “Any Old Port” mystery are seriously flawed. Both how Ric Carsini was murdered, and how Columbo “solves” the crime. Ric “suffocated”? That’s what Columbo tells Joan Stacey. In that brick and stone cellar? Unlike Abigail Mitchell’s safe, those cellar walls are porous. There’s nothing airtight about that room (even if Carsini does take a deep breath after switching the air conditioner back on). Had Ric died of dehydration, that I’d understand. Suffocation? I don’t buy it.

      And then there’s the solution. Again, I love how Columbo tricks Carsini into using his expertise to prove what no one else would be able to prove. But what does Columbo prove, exactly? That the air conditioning in the wine cellar was off. Does that prove that Ric was in the wine cellar at the time? According to Karen Fielding, Ric left the winery earlier. Columbo never disproves that. No wonder Columbo needs a confession (which Carsini is willing to give less because Columbo has him firmly in his clutches, but more because Karen was “turning the thumbscrews on me”).

      In a detective mystery which prides itself on solving perfect crimes with clever clues and a diabolical final gotcha, I would think that the No. 1 all-time episode should excel in both respects. “Any Old Port” simply doesn’t.

        • Also did I post my comment incorrectly, because mine WAS supposed to be a reply to another comment 😀

          “Any Old Port in a Storm” was my number 2 for many years together with “Swan Song” at number 1 for many years, because I loved it most when Columbo and the murderer have a friendly relationship. Nowadays I regard arrogant but smart assholes like Dale Kingston as the best possible type of counterpart. “Any Old Port”, although Donald Pleasence is a five-star-player, has dropped down, even out of my Top 20 after having read Columbophile’s review. But I thank him for that.

          • “Swan Song” is also in my top 10, primarily because of (1) the novel murder method, (2) giving the killer a vital expertise hidden deep in his background, (3) Brown’s ability to provide credible answers to all of Columbo’s questions, and (4) the two-pronged solution, both the parachute and the rental car keys.

            • Yes, these are some of my reasons, too. The spectacular murder scene has cinematic substance. And I have to add that I am a huge Johnny Cash fan, but already before I became one, when he started his “American Recordings” in 1994, “Swan Song” marked my number 1 from 1992 to 2011 and was then beaten by “Suitable for Framing”, after I watched an old mystery thriller of the 40’ies, in which the ending resembles Swan Song’s lure-the-killer-back-into-the-forest-and-catch-him-there trap. I think it was a Humphrey Bogart movie. Since then I am doomed to know that it was not an original Columbo author’s idea.

              By the way: The most popular German TV magazine Hörzu rates only 2 of Columbo’s 69 cases as “outstanding”, the others as “worth seeing”, and the 2 are “Swan Song” and “Any Old Port in a Storm”, and they once claimed that Columbo fans wouldn’t debate about the opinion that these two were the highlights.

              • The Bogart movie is “Conflict” (1945). I wouldn’t be too hard on the “Swan Song” writers (David Rayfiel (teleplay); Stanley Ralph Ross (story)) — one of whom also wrote “Any Old Port.” The resemblance is slight.

                • For my taste, Donald Pleasance is a bit too actorly, and I find Ross Martin much more interesting. I absolutely love the scene where he is holding court to the gallery crowd who laugh hysterically at his puerile jokes : ” Notice, no matter how abstract the artist, he always signs his name realistically!”

                  • I love nearly every scene in this ultimate Columbo jewel, only excluding the scene in which Dale plants the stolen paintings in Edna’s car in broad daylight. He could have taken a lower risk there.

                • What an expert you are! 🙂
                  Is dropping “Swan Song” because of the slightly copied ending from number 1 to number 3 too hard? I don’t think so.

                  • Be careful. First, a resemblance does not mean anyone copied anything. (I’ve never seen “Conflict.” I only found it after you mentioned something about it. Who’s to say Rayfiel or Ross did either?) Second, if you set a resemblance this slight as your standard, what other episodes will bear the same stain? There’s a lot of mystery stories out there. Very few plots are unique. I only draw the line at clear copying: the crime in “Suitable for Framing” vs. the crime in “It’s All in the Game”; the gotcha in “A Friend in Deed” vs. the gotcha in “Columbo Goes to College.” “Now You See Him” is currently ranked fourth. Should its ranking be dropped because Agatha Christie found proof of a letter’s content on blotting paper; the film “M” found it etched into the wooden surface on which the letter was written; the film “North By Northwest” found an impression left on the next sheet of the memo pad? I would not.

                    • Raymond Chandler always downplayed the importance of plots. In his view , any idiot could come up with a clever plot – but they couldn’t make the characters walk off the page.

                    • Chandler wrote indecipherable plots. Plus, he was a novelist. Novels can get into a character’s head in a way a script can’t. Scripts show character through action. Chandler’s two notable screenplays, “Double Indemnity” and “Strangers on a Train,” had very good plots (adapted from novels by others). But “Double Indemnity” was co-written with Billy Wilder (the two hated each other), and actually added plot to the original James Cain novel. And Chandler’s screenplay to “Strangers on a Train” had to be completely rewritten.

                    • Chandler’s Marlowe is such a superb character that I don’t mind doing some hand-waving at trying to follow the plot. Ross Macdonald’s storylines were similarly byzantine, but somehow, weirdly easier for me to keep straight. The Spenser novels of Robert Parker are clothesline plots by comparison (the later Parker books almost seemed to be written in crayon, unfortunately). And while I’m here I’ll throw out a thumbs-up to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mysteries too.

                      I have not read any of the Columbo stories, but I would think that it would be a challenge to pull them off as effectively on the printed page. The mere act of writing out the significance of the clues would seem to bleed the drama and surprise that come from visualizing them.

                    • I know I am a strict judge on this. Let me help you to drop “Now You See Him”, because this one also ends up with a copied idea: the plastic ribbon that sustains the typed letters were firstly (?) used in a “McMillan & Wife” episode from 1973: I think it was “Free Fall to Terror”. Copying clues from another NBC Mystery Movie series is even more sneaky than copying from its own series’ clues. And don’t forget: Actually not “It’s All in the Game” copies an idea from “Suitable for Framing” but the other way round: “It’s All in the Game” was starting to be written by Peter Falk in 1970, just to rest unseen for 23 years. Only the included single brilliant idea to keep the body warm with an electric blanked to fake the time of death to establish an alibi thankfully survived in “Suitable”.

                    • Not just the electric blanket. Also using an accomplice to fire a shot in the air with an innocent witness within earshot, to establish a phony time for the murder, and give the actual killer an alibi.

                    • How could I forget the importance of the accomplices? Maybe it’s because Lauren loves her daughter Lisa but Dale doesn’t love his student Tracy.
                      Yes, 1970 is what William Link is supposed to have said. At least it says so in the German Columbo fan book “Das große Buch für Fans” written by Armin Block and Stefan Fuchs in 1998. “Ransom for a Dead Man” aired in early 1971, so it must have been shot in late 1970. I suppose at that time Peter Falk started to write his own episode for Season 1, but in that year he only ended up as a director for “Blueprint for Murder”. He didn’t finish his script and put it in a drawer. After “No Time to Die” and “A Bird in the Hand” he must have thought: Now it’s the right time for the masterpiece of the second era.

                    • According to Mark Dawidziak’s “The Columbo Phile”: “Ransom for a Dead Man aired March 1, 1971. In April, Sid Sheinberg asked Levinson and Link if they would produce a series version of Columbo.” So how could Falk start working on a Season 1 episode in 1970 when no one knew there would be a Season 1 until April 1971?

                  • I found and watched “Conflict.” The resemblance I noted was not to “Swan Song.” “Swan Song” is about trying to find a needle in a haystack. (“Who could find it?” “The guy that hid it.”) In “Conflict,” the location of the needle is known all along. Rather, “Conflict” (and the story on which it is based (“The Pentacle”)) is an early version of a long line of dramas usually credited as based on the Robert Thomas play, “The Trap for the Lonely Man” (sometimes called “Trap for a Single Man”). These dramas include the TV films “Honeymoon with a Stranger,” “One of My Wives is Missing,” and “Vanishing Act”
                    (ironically written by Levinson and Link). Also in this line are the film “Chase a Crooked Shadow” and a 1946 radio drama “Stranger in the House” (from the program, “The Whistler”), redone as a TV episode in 1955. While many of these post-“Conflict” versions contain an additional element not in “Conflict” (no spoilers here), the core story is the same. And it has nothing to do with “Swan Song.”

                    • Then it must have been another Bogart movie. I can only remember that in the end the murderer returned to the scene of his crime (the woods) and was there surprised by the detective.

                      Well, I can only quote (or translate) what’s in the fan book, as long as I do not know it any better. There it says (page 218):

                      >> Not one of the best, but one of the most heart warming Columbo episodes. Peter Falk himself wrote the script. In several documents it is noted that William Link and Richard Levinson delivered the storyline years before. This is not quite right: William Link narrates, Peter Falk wrote the script in 1970 and laid it into a drawer, because he was not satisfied with the result. Levinson and Link managed a lot of ideas back then, among others the electric blanket clue. Because Peter Falk’s script was not finished, the idea was used in “Suitable for Framing”. <<

                      So if 1970 is wrong, it can only be 1971, but maybe – that's my theory – Peter Falk had a feeling that after "Prescription: Murder" and "Ransom for a Dead Man", a third Columbo movie might be wanted one day – and in that case, he would have one ready, which he started in 1970.

                    • That’s the right Bogart movie. But the reason he returns to the woods (and, as importantly, how and why he is manipulated into returning to the woods) is very different than in “Swan Song.”

                    • As the story is very different, naturally the details are different, too. But up to then I thought it was an original Columbo idea to trick the killer into the woods where he committed his crime and use his presence there as the final proof. I had to react to the disappointment by chosing “Suitable for Framing” as my new favourite. Or is there a former mystery where the detective’s fingerprints prove the suspect’s guilt?

                    • Does the woods part really matter (versus, say, the trunk of a car (“Death Lends a Hand”) or a back garden with a dry fountain (“Requiem for a Falling Star”)? If Brown had landed near a city dump, and hidden the parachute in an abandoned refrigerator, would “Swan Song” still be your No. 1?

                      Link claimed the detective’s fingerprints bit had never been used before, but there are plenty of comparable examples of key evidence bearing traces of something incompatible with the criminal’s story.

                    • The unique woods scenes in “Swan Song” (murder scene and solution) were what made it my number 1 back then, so it mattered to me that they were not as unique as I thought.

                      I love key evidence! Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” and Columbo’s “Publish or Perish” deliver the best key clues I can think of. But these are different kinds of evidence than the fingerprints of the very cop that investigates the crime.

      • I’ve always thought this episode was overrated. While it’s a very watchable episode I find myself getting bored with it as well. Some of the high praise heaped on this episode is undoubtedly due to the fantastic performance given by the actors, in particular Donald pleasance who gives it his all. His very erudite & sympathetic characterization lends the episode an epic & classy ambiance. I think the best columbo episodes are ones where there’s an antagonistic relationship between columbo & the murderer & unfortunately there’s none of that in this case. Think columbo/milo Janus or columbo/Paul galesko. If I can’t invest in the cat & mouse game what reason is there in watching. Would love to read some thoughts regarding this.

        • My thought on this is: Wouldn’t it be fascinating for you and a reason to watch, if you could see how Columbo the cat reacts to the realization that a man or a woman he respects or likes probably is the mouse he unfortunately needs to catch?
          Tommy Brown in “Swan Song” treats Columbo respectfully like a true friend, who just like Tommy has to work for a living. This makes them equal in a way. I buy it that, if they weren’t on opposite ends of the law, they could have a drink together like Carsini and Columbo or like Devlin and Columbo. That’s why “Swan Song” is my number 3 and “The Conspirators” my number 7.

  17. Interesting list. When does voting open? I can’t believe Murder Under Glass isn’t mentioned. A definite favorite of mine!

    • I guess it might end up in the 20-30 region. Me myself, I currently place “Murder Under Glass” on number 21, which is still within my A list that comprises 23 cases.

  18. I’m completely baffled by Bye Bye sky High IQ. It’s as dull as ditch water, improbable plot and characters and no compensating humour. (Having said that, it’s still preferable to CSI, Law and Order, etc, etc.)

    • I too continue to be perplexed by it’s popularity. For me the only truly great last three seasons episode was ‘Make Me A Perfect Murder

      But what do I know!!

  19. Where did the “Rosebud” episode fare starring loveable doberman pinchers: Laurel and Hardy? It is on my top five and the brilliant episode starring regal Ruth Gordon is my favorite.

          • LOL!! It’s great that we have that bond as Columbo fans, but I must admit I get vexed when some don’t like the ones I do and vice-versa

            I had a bit of a row on FB on someone slating “Any Old Port in a Storm’ of all episodes

            The irony is, it’s not in my Top 10 – but is certainly some of the best TV around and anyone disagreeing is simply wrong!!

            Or perhaps they’re not!!

            • I could slap my own face for the different opinions that I had towards some episodes during their maturation process in my shelf. Some were very high and dropped low, others were starting low but had the potential to rise above. After watching “Citizen Kane” for the first time in 1994, “How to Dial a Murder” rushed to place 4. After reading CP’s review a year ago, it dropped to place 63. 🙁 Very few always remain in a stable position throughout the years.

              • You’re spot on. ‘A Deadly State of Mind’ has suddenly gone up in my ranking to about 15th

                Yet last time I watched it, I was convinced it was strictly averaged

                It could be my new ranking system. I decided to be formal when viewing the episodes and so gave marks out of 10 for the quality of the Plot, Killer, Chemistry, Pace, Support, Gotcha, Columbo ‘X’ Factor

                Just finished ranking the originals, but can’t bring myself to watch the new ones before Xmas!!!

                • “A Deadly State of Mind” is another example: This one was my number 1 for exactly one day: the day after I first watched it at age 15. The mind blowing gotcha caused this euphoria. The next day I had my rerun and lowered it down due to its slow pace and relatively routined investigation before Nadia Donner’s death.
                  George Hamilton, though, is one of my five star Columbo killers. His slimy charisma and arrogant self confidence is exactly what a terrific culprit needs.

  20. Time to compare with what I got in my shelf.
    I am astounded by the coincidence, because If I erased the digit “1” from the voter’s positions 18-11, the ranks
    18, 17, 16, 13, 12 and 11
    would be absolutely consistent with my personal positions
    8, 7, 6, 3, 2 and 1,
    as my current Top Ten features:

    10: A Stitch in Crime
    9: Try and Catch Me
    8: Publish or Perish
    7: The Conspirators
    6: Prescription: Murder
    5: It’s All in the Game
    4: Death Lends a Hand
    3: Swan Song
    2: Double Exposure
    1: Suitable for Framing


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