Almost seven months after the debacle of Murder in Malibu, Lieutenant Columbo stormed back onto screens with the seeming intent of educating a new generation of sceptical viewers about his on-going relevance.
One could surmise that the patchiness of the previous 10 episodes of Columbo’s second coming led the show’s creative team back to the drawing board in a bid to rediscover some of the old magic. The result? Columbo Goes to College: an ambitious and audacious murder mystery squaring the Lieutenant off against two privileged frat boys.
Not only that, in a move guaranteed to have long-time fans floating on a wave of nostalgic euphoria, who should pop up as a guest star but iconic 70s’ killer Robert Culp! Now that’s what I call a tonic.
Needless to say, Columbo Goes to College sounds enticing, but can it go where no ‘new Columbo‘ adventure has gone before and deliver a mystery every bit as good as the very best from the classic era? Let’s crack open some brewskis, leap into Coop’s Hilux and squeal back to December 9, 1990 to find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Justin Rowe: Stephen Caffrey
Cooper Redman: Gary Herschberger
Jordan Rowe: ROBERT FREAKING CULP
DE Rusk: James Sutorius
Joe Doyle: Jim Antonio
Dominic Doyle: William Lucking
Mrs Rusk: Bridget Hanley
June Clark: Catherine Cannon
Mr Redman: Alan Fudge
Mrs Rowe: Maree Cheatham
Sachs: Karl Wiedergott
Sara: Elizabeth Swackhamer
Directed by: EW Swackhamer
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom and Frederick King Keller
Score by: James Di Pasquale
Episode synopsis: Columbo Goes to College
Spoilt rich kids Justin Rowe and Cooper ‘Coop’ Redman have managed to get themselves into a fix. Their criminology lecturer, Professor DE Rusk, has discovered they stole a copy of their impending test paper – and he’s either going to flunk them from his class or see them expelled from the college altogether!
Either way spells doom for the students. Justin’s future at Harvard Law School will go kaput, while the virile Coop has just been informed that his parents will cut him off if he commits one more faux pas having made three girls pregnant in the past 18 months. Neither lad is keen on their style being cramped this way, so they conclude that Rusk needs to be made history, stat.
They’re already aware of Rusk’s affair with the college basketball coach’s wife, June Clarke, and also that Rusk is working on a tell-all expose of crime and corruption at the highest levels of society – a project that has led to death threats being made against his life. The man has many enemies who would be glad to see the back of him, which means plenty of suspects!
Quite what their fiendish plan to rid the world of the Rusk menace is isn’t fully revealed until much later. However, we do see the pair break into the dingy apartment of dim-witted campus security guard, Joe Doyle, and make off with his handgun. It’s an intriguing opening.
Rusk’s next criminology class duly arrives featuring a special guest speaker: Lieutenant Columbo of the LAPD. The professor doesn’t get to enjoy much of Columbo’s lecture, though, as he excuses himself to head out to a dinner appointment with Justin’s father. The appointment, however, is a phony cooked up by Justin and Coop as part of their murderous scheme. And when Rusk makes his way to the faculty car park, they kick into action.
While we don’t exactly see what they’re doing, it’s clear they’re up to no good as Coop removes a small item from his bag and Justin clutches Coop’s remote door locker with savage intensity. Both boys are watching something hidden below the lecture theatre desk, but just what it is remains a mystery.
As this unfolds, Rusk walks to his own car, which is parked precisely opposite Coop’s truck in the faculty car park. As Rusk reaches to open his car, a shot rings out and the professor falls dead from a wound to the head that douses his car in blood. It’s the most gruesome killing in Columbo history, although it’s completely unnoticed by security guard Joe, who is stereotypically watching a basketball game instead of the car park CCTV feed (yes, that old chestnut).
If we needed proof that Justin and Coop are the guilty parties, it’s seemingly given to us in the shape of a subtle exchange of fist bumps as they zone back in to Columbo’s lecture. The Lieutenant has proved to be a smash hit who is definitely down with the kidz of Freemont College.
A small group of students (including J&C) walk Columbo back to the car lot where they uncover the grisly sight of Rusk’s corpse. As Columbo bosses the crime scene, Justin helpfully screeches off in Coop’s truck to make a 911 call from Joe’s security station. A startled Joe gallops off to assist the Lieutenant, leaving Justin to make the call and back-up the CCTV tapes on Joe’s behalf. Wouldn’t it be a surprise if that decision comes back to haunt him later in the episode, eh?
True to form, Columbo is instantly troubled by the little details. Just where was the Professor going during the lecture? And what precisely is the non-descript pill found in his shirt pocket? A rummage inside the briefcase Rusk left in his office reveals a stash of cholesterol tablets – matching the one found in the Professor’s pocket. The tablets are to be taken directly before eating, so Rusk must’ve been heading out for a dining appointment. Columbo orders a uniformed cop to create a list of all restaurants within a 15-minute drive.
Then it’s off to view the CCTV footage, which clearly shows Rusk’s assassination. What’s puzzling, though, is that the footage shows no sign of anyone leaving the car park either on foot or in a vehicle. How did the killer get away? And where were they when they pulled the trigger?
Columbo has to put this poser on the backburner, however, in order to check the local eateries to see if Rusk had an appointment at any of them – and it’s not long before he’s got a decent lead. Turns out that Rusk did ring one restaurant at 8.10pm leaving a cryptic message with the Maitre D’ to “Let Mr Rowe know he was running late.” Curiously, there was no Mr Rowe at the restaurant that night.
At something of an impasse, Columbo accepts the offer to meet up with the criminology students at Darlene’s Bar & Grill, from whom he hears some unfiltered intel on the late Professor. Rusk was said to have been a difficult and opinionated man, who frequently ‘fooled around’ with other women. Perhaps the most relevant snippet Columbo picks up, though, is simply hearing that Justin’s surname is Rowe. He now has a direct link between the student and the mystery surrounding Rusk’s death.
The investigation steps up a gear the next day when press reveal Rusk’s affair with June Clarke. Columbo pays her a visit to inquire whether the rumours are true. June claims that their affair ended months earlier, and that she hadn’t seen Rusk since – a blatant lie, as we saw her break up with him at a bar earlier in the episode. She also claims to have been home alone on the night of Rusk’s death.
As coincidence would have it, Columbo bumps into J&C outside. Justin scoffs at the suggestion that June and Rusk were no longer an item and the pair lead the Lieutenant to the bar where the lovers used to meet. When the trio arrive, the barkeep confirms that this was June and Rusk’s regular hang-out, and dashes her claim that she hadn’t seen the professor for months, because they were both there last week. Not only that, they had a big argument and she stormed out in a rage. Could she be a viable suspect?
It’s here that Justin and Coop fall into the cardinal error of being too helpful to Columbo, and insisting on being kept up to speed on the latest case developments. Having heard it all before from the likes of Adrian Carsini, Barry Mayfield and Hayden Danziger in years gone by, Columbo is far too shrewd to fall for the antics of a couple of college kids.
He witnesses them aping his mannerisms as they return to the truck, but it’s the Lieutenant who’s shaping up to have the last laugh as he calls a colleague to confirm that no airline tickets were found in Rusk’s briefcase on the night of his death. Then he gets back to work. An interview with Mrs Rusk proves enlightening. She admits to knowing about her husband’s affair with June Clarke, and that he’d told her about the break-up. Wanting confirmation of this from June herself, Mrs Rusk claims to have met up with her love rival on the night of Rusk’s death. If true, that’s a rock-solid alibi.
When Columbo asks whether Mrs Rusk knew why her husband had a plane ticket to Phoenix in his briefcase, though, she is stumped. So too is June Clarke, which leads us back to those rascals Justin and Coop. The boys are having a wild time at a frat party when Columbo drops in. He asks them if they’d heard anything about a trip Professor Rusk planned to take to Phoenix – and smug Justin can’t help but take the bait.
He claims the pair had overheard Rusk talking about meeting someone from the FBI or Attorney General’s office in Phoenix to discuss high-level fraud at the Savings & Loan. Gee whizz, what if the guy he was meeting in Phoenix decided to shut Rusk up – permanently? Naturally, such a melodramatic response to bogus information makes J&C Columbo’s new prime suspects.
Justin subsequently sets up a meeting between his father, Jordan, and Columbo to further promote the idea that shadowy agents may have slain Rusk to keep him from publishing his planned expose. Enter stage right Mr Robert Culp in his first Columbo appearance since Double Exposure in 1973. And pleasingly, he’s as irascible as ever.
Rowe Senior is immediately disgusted by Columbo’s lack of knowledge of Rusk’s incendiary criminal profiles of, opining that it was clearly a mob hit, while dismissing the Lieutenant’s lackadaisical investigation in delicious style: “It’s perfectly clear you haven’t the faintest idea which way is up here. That’s not an insult, just a statement of fact.” Yes viewers, the King of Columbo put-downs is right back into his stride!
Earwigging in to this conversation via a concealed listening bug, Justin and Coop are cock-a-hoop to hear the browbeating being dished out to the seemingly bungling detective. But they’re also on the receiving end of some of Mr Rowe barbs as he laments the lack of application of his highly intelligent son, while rubbishing Coop’s ambitions of becoming a tennis pro. Feel the burn, boys!
Just about the only useful thing Columbo learns from his audience with Rowe is that he was dining in San Francisco with the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor on the night of Rusk’s death. It’s clear that this Rowe, at least, is not a suspect. His suspicions about Rowe Junior, however, pick up pace when he learns from Joe that Justin was responsible for saving the CCTV footage of Rusk being killed – but he hadn’t saved the footage from a second camera that was covering the area of the car park where the killer must have been firing from. Suspicious…
Hot on the heels of this, Columbo is summoned to see the College Dean, where he is greeted by both the Rowe men (Justin in a particularly chunky fisherman’s sweater), who have pertinent new information on the case. They reveal that dopey Joe’s brother Dominic was recently released from jail on a murder charge and that he has a string of offences behind him.
The insinuation is clear. Dominic is a hired goon with mob connections. Rusk had been threatened by the mob, making Dominic is a likely suspect. All these fast facts have come from Justin, who is happy to bask in some rare praise from his cantankerous father.
Columbo is duty-bound to investigate, despite not believing for a moment that Dominic is involved. And during his short interview with the former jailbird, he’s interrupted by a stunning news broadcast about the Rusk killing. One network has obtained video footage of the murder from a full-frontal angle, amazing Columbo while simultaneously gripping J&C with their first hint of panic.
Turns out that this footage was picked up by a guy using an illegal satellite dish. He had been recording a movie from some “obscure channel” (i.e. European donkey porn) and when he got round to watching it discovered the footage of the Rusk killing. This means that someone deliberately broadcast the killing, and it was flukily picked up by the satellite dish. It was also certainly filmed from within the car park, directly opposite Rusk’s car. An audacious crime if ever there was one.
Nothing Columbo has heard has shaken his belief that Justin and Coop are the guilty parties, so he uses his nous to force their hand. Dropping by the frat house, he updates them on the case, heavily suggesting that he’s bought into the idea of Dominic’s guilt. He’d like to take him in for questioning, but he still has some loose ends to tie up.
The Lieutenant then receives a call from a sidekick, purportedly giving him details of Dominic’s car (a green, 1976 two-door Ford with the licence plate 2SBI 653) and his favourite drinking hole. He’ll need to find that car and search it as part of his investigation. He then leaves the boys, cheerily telling them he’ll see them in class for his next lecture in a couple of days.
He sees them much sooner, though, as Coop later reports to Justin that he’s discovered Dominic’s car at his favourite bar. The cops are called in, and the Rowe men arrive in time to witness a .45 automatic being found in the car, and a handcuffed Dominic being taken into custody. It looks like the police have their man, eliciting whoops of celebration from J&C, who have every reason to believe they’re in the clear.
Basking in this success, they head to college the next day in high spirits. When they pull in to park, however, they find Columbo awaiting them. His plan is to recreate the killing of Professor Rusk, and urges them to park in the exact same spot they did the week before. In the lecture room itself, Columbo explains the importance of luck in solving the crime. The lucky capture of the broadcast footage of Rusk’s death has helped him figure out how the murder was committed. And from that, he knows who did it. And he’s about to reveal all.
He shows the class a live broadcast from the car park showing Professor Rusk’s car. He then unveils a complicated-looking mechanism of a gun rigged up to some wiring, which fires a blank when Columbo’s little helper (student Sachs) beeps a remote control door locker from the faculty garage.
If Justin and Coop are feeling the noose around their necks, they ain’t showing it quite yet, but it won’t be long until definitive proof of their dastardly scheme is delivered as Columbo leads the class down to the garage. He again puts on a little demonstration, this time using a plaster model of Professor Rusk by his car and asking J&C to beep the door locker for Coop’s Hilux. The model’s head is promptly blown to pieces.
It’s now that we viewers finally see how Justin and Coop committed the murder, as we’re shown in flashback how Cooper produced a miniature TV set from his bag in the lecture hall showing Rusk arriving at his car, and how Justin triggered the remote door locker to fire the lethal shot. There’s only more more question Columbo must answer: where was the gun?
Popping the hood on Coop’s truck, the Lieutenant shows the startled crowd how a gun could be concealed in the car’s engine and rigged up to fire through the car door locking mechanism. There’s even a tiny video camera tucked away, too, peeping out through the hood vents, which the killer used to perfectly target the fatal headshot.
Even though this demo essentially totally proves that J&C are the killers, the boys aren’t ready to throw in the towel quite yet, querying how Dominic Doyle could possibly have gotten away with rigging up a gun in Coop’s truck and later removing it before they ever realised what he’d done.
That’s easy for Columbo to answer: Doyle had nothing to do with it. Even though he was taken in for questioning, there was no cause to arrest him because the killers are right here in the garage – and the Lieutenant can prove it. A detective pulls into the car lot in the same car Justin and Coop believed was Doyle’s. He has the ballistics report with him that confirms the gun found in the car was the same one used to slay Professor Rusk.
What more proof do you need, asks a smug-looking Justin. The police have the murder weapon and it was found in Doyle’s car. He’s da killer! “Well, you’re half right Justin,” explains Columbo. “It is the murder weapon, but it is not Dominic Doyle’s car. It’s my wife’s.“
The revelation stuns the boys into silence as the Lieutenant reveals the depth of his trickery. The only people that Columbo had given the description and licence plate of the car to was Justin and Coop. Ergo, only they could have planted the murder weapon in the car. Ergo, they are the killers.
The unrepentant duo are manhandled into custody, but not before having the final word. “We did it because we knew how to do it,” smirks Justin. “You got lucky. But don’t count us out, Lieutenant, because my father doesn’t like to see me fail.” All Columbo can do is shake his head in disbelief as credits roll…
When Columbo returned to the screen in 1989, a new generation of viewers was given the chance to uncover the charms of the Lieutenant for the first time: a generation perhaps entirely unfamiliar with the concept of the show. For this new audience, one can imagine them tuning into the comeback episodes at the behest of their parents, thinking to themselves: “Who is this clueless Columbo dude? How’s he ever gonna crack the case?”
This is precisely why Columbo Goes to College works. Our frat boy protagonists Justin and Cooper are the very embodiment of that new, sceptical viewer. They look scornfully at the bumbling Lieutenant because they’re young, fearless members of the cool club who believe in their own hype. No way is this doddery old fossil going to outsmart them.
Such a blinkered mindset is the perpetual curse of youth, and it brings our conceited villains down in glorious fashion. But a quality episode needs much more than just a riveting finale and, happily, Columbo Goes to College delivers the goods in just about every category that matters.
The premise of the episode, with its cocksure cool cats committing an outrageous crime, may hardly be original (it’s a riff on the real-life Leopold and Loeb case, which heavily influenced Hitchcock’s Rope) but Columbo Goes to College injects an ultra-modern and ingenious murder into a classic tale that really makes the most of the ‘cutting edge’ world of the early 90s. Indeed, not since Playback in 1975 has the latest tech played such a pivotal – and enjoyable – part in the plot.
Employing a method used in several classic era episodes, including Murder Under Glass, How To Dial a Murder and The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case, College makes it abundantly clear who the killers are without showing exactly how they did it. The sheer ingenuity of Justin and Coop’s slaying of Professor Rusk isn’t fully revealed until the thrilling conclusion, which in itself is a modern twist on classic murder mystery parlour room reveals of a by-gone age.
“Columbo Goes to College injects an ultra-modern and ingenious murder into a classic tale.”
I’d say this is easily the best example of a ‘new Columbo‘ really making the most of its current time period and technology to enhance its storytelling. While Columbo Cries Wolf unashamedly embraced the trashy world of the late 80s, it was a much more cartoonish depiction. Columbo Goes to College embraces the age while retaining an authentic air through a setting that a high proportion of viewers could relate to. Apart from some predictably dodgy fashions, it has aged very well.
A key ingredient in the success of the episode is how tightly reined in the Columbo character is. The comeback episodes have too often seen Falk’s portrayal of the Lieutenant veer towards pastiche and nonsensical broad comedy. College bucks the trend with Falk really delivering the goods to give us a Columbo that feels like an authentic extension of his 70s incarnation.
Pretty much his only duff moment is when the detective theatrically scratches his head after the TV exec explains to him how the Rusk murder was broadcast. Combined with a Stan Laurel-style idiotic gurn, this was a clumsy misstep that could have easily been avoided.
Elsewhere, though, the tone and balance of the episode are spot on. There are plenty of laughs to be had in Columbo Goes to College, especially with Justin and Coop poking fun at the Lieutenant, and when Jordan Rowe tears into him over his apparent lack of wits. Such scenes deliver terrific entertainment without reducing the Columbo character to a capering buffoon who is openly playing for laughs. I give the writers and producers due credit for a job well done.
Falk’s performance is a treat. His interactions with Justin and Coop are priceless as he realises quickly that they’ve completely fallen for his bumbling old codger act and hams it up to them at every opportunity. Probably the best example is the scene at the frat party, when the wily Lieutenant cons the kids into falling for the ‘plane tickets to Phoenix’ gag.
“A key ingredient in the success of the episode is how tightly reined in the Columbo character is.”
When Coop laments that the purported shady hit on Rusk “is pretty scary stuff”, Columbo responds with a perfect parody of a tough-talking veteran trying to show street smarts in front of an inexperienced audience. “I’ll tell ya, sometimes it can be a pretty scary world,” he retorts, with a click of his teeth and a stern-set jaw. More fun follows when he tells Coop he’d be lost without the boys’ help, while placing a grandfatherly arm around his shoulders. On both occasions, Falk absolutely aces it.
The sights we’re given of Columbo’s inner steeliness are just as effective. When he notices the boys making fun of his mannerisms across a car park, his expression and knowing nod virtually scream out ‘you’re going down, boys’. And so it will prove in memorable fashion.
Cast as Justin and Coop respectively, Stephen Caffrey and Gary Herschberger flawlessly come across as absolute douchebags: privileged, arrogant, idle and full of their own importance. Their performances are top notch. The only criticism I have is that they’re both so obviously way older than the 21-year-old college kids they’re supposed to be.
Caffrey was 31 at time of filming and looks it, while Herschberger, 26, is more boyish but has old man hands that give him away. Their believable and energetic turns, however – and the effectiveness of their playing off Falk – more than make up for this. These are guys that we can love to hate, and the white privilege and sense of entitlement they ooze feels just as relevant today as it did in 1990.
The two also come across as being genuine friends. I have no intel on the relationship between Caffrey and Herschberger before filming College, but it ‘s evident they developed a strong rapport. Heck, with the tickling, teasing, magic shakes and shirtless room sharing, Justin and Coop provide the series’ best bromance since Columbo and Sanchez hit it off in A Matter of Honor 14 years earlier.
Just as was the case in many of Columbo’s classic cases, the killers’ supreme self belief is their downfall. So confident are they that they’re playing the Lieutenant that they’re oblivious to the fact he’s playing them – until it’s too late. Yes, this is a bit of a Columbo trope but seeing it all pan out to the detriment of these cocky frat brats gives proceedings a delicious edge.
No review of Columbo Goes to College would be complete without some fanboy fawning over the return of the mighty Bobby Culp. It is so good to have him back in Columbo colours after a 17-year break, and even if he’s not playing the murderer here, he’s as snarling and unsympathetic as ever. Culp’s mere presence gives College a huge amount of additional clout, helping to validate the episode and elevate it to the highest level.
Welcome as his presence is, Culp’s appearance is also tinged with a hint of regret over what might have been had Rowe Senior been present for the demise of his son. It certainly wouldn’t have been hard to tinker with the script to allow for it, and the missed opportunity for one last explosion of rage, or a begrudging admittance of Columbo’s abilities, seems like a glaring omission.
The writers also missed a gilt-edged chance to present serious fans with an Easter Egg reference during Columbo’s initial lecture to the student body. While mentions are made of the Lieutenant’s previous cases, how good would it have been for him to have slipped in a passing mention of one of his legendary 70s’ cases, such as the take-down of Ken Franklin, Nelson Hayward or Nora Chandler? Allied with the Culp cameo, that would have delighted millions of long-time viewers. Why didn’t they do it?
The overly intricate nature of the murder offers both positives and negatives for thoughtful viewers. The crime is audacious and ludicrously far-fetched – J&C would have had to manoeuvre their truck microscopically for ages to precisely line up the fatal shot. Along with Dr Kepple’s use of subliminal cuts in Double Exposure, and Tommy Brown’s plane crash stunt in Swan Song, this is one of those crimes that it’s best simply to accept rather than think too deeply about.
The cliched uselessness of Joe Doyle failing to spot the killing on the CCTV camera is also something to be glossed over – although Joe’s squirming shame about his own ineptness does make for enjoyable viewing. One must assume he’ll swiftly be relieved of his duties to be replaced by something more reliable, such as an orange, a dippy bird or an inanimate carbon rod.
Still, those are just about the only aspects of College I consider oversights. Pretty much everything else is top tier – including the gotcha scene. Some fans find it a bit of a cheat in that the writers essentially repackaged the awesome gotcha from A Friend in Deed. I’m not one of those nay-sayers. In fact, given the collegiate setting of this episode I think it works superbly.
In College, Columbo is playing the role of educator. What better way of teaching the killers a real lesson than by adapting one of his greatest triumphs to serve as an example to them all? It also underlines the fact that Justin and Coop are lazy students. Perhaps if they’d done their homework on Columbo the same way they genned up on the rap sheet of former con Dominic Doyle, they’d have been able to avoid his trap.
Had they been paying more attention in class, they might also have absorbed the vital lesson Columbo delivers about the importance of not giving away too much information to suspects. Instead, with their eyes fixed on the mini TV screen, Justin and Coop missed it completely, therefore failing to smell a rat when Columbo provides them with an avalanche of phony information later down the line. Silly boys…
“College is an episode packed with intrigue that demands the viewer’s attention throughout.”
Another strength of College is how effectively it makes use of its running time. Since its 1989 return, Columbo uniformly adopted a 90+ minute format (2 hour episodes including ad breaks), but this rarely seemed justified, leading to a deluge of silly, unnecessary scenes being thrown in to pad things out (Sex and the Married Detective’s tuba scene being a particularly foul example).
College is really the first of the new episodes to make a virtue of its ample length. There’s nothing here that doesn’t further the story and keep the mystery progressing. It’s an episode packed with intrigue that demands the viewer’s attention throughout to avoid missing a key clue – including a number of subtle inclusions early on that come full circle by episode’s end.
Note how Justin utilises the micro video camera on his RC car at the very start of the episode – the same equipment that Columbo will later reveal as having been used in the killing of Rusk. Notice, too, the fleeting glimpse of Dominic Doyle hanging out at brother Joe’s security station in the college building early on in proceedings – a fact that Justin later references in a bid to pin the murder on him.
Every little thing in this episode has been included for a reason, and none of it feels heavy-handed. Compared to the vast majority of Columbo episodes since 1989, this is a masterclass in writing. It’s a shame it took so long to attain this level of excellence.
To conclude, I’m sure it’s apparent just how much a fan I am of Columbo Goes to College. It’s far and away the standout adventure of the new era, but the final question to consider is how well it fares against the classic era cases. So far, only Agenda for Murder has favourably compared – but it still wouldn’t make my overall A-List.
College is a different animal. A high-energy, hugely enjoyable inter-generational conflict between old hound and young upstarts, this isn’t just good by new Columbo standards – it’s an A-Grade episode regardless of era, and one that definitively proves how sharp and relevant the show and character could still be in this brave new world.
Did you know?
College is one of the few occasions when we encounter Columbo before the murder takes place, and is the first time he’s the officer to discover the dead body. It’s also one of only seven episodes in which the Lieutenant references one of his previous televised cases, explaining to the students how he was able to use bitemark evidence to bring down Oscar Finch in Agenda for Murder. Read about the other six examples here.
How I rate ’em
You’d have to be the class dunce to not realise that I really dig Columbo Goes to College. It tops the current list, but would also be the first new episode to make the A-List in my overall standings (which you can see here).
If you missed any of my earlier ‘new Columbo‘ reviews, access them via the links below.
- Columbo Goes to College
- Agenda for Murder
- Columbo Cries Wolf
- Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
- Sex & The Married Detective
- Murder, A Self Portrait
- Murder, Smoke & Shadows
- Uneasy Lies the Crown
- Grand Deceptions
- Murder in Malibu
If Columbo Goes to College merits an A+ in your professorial heart, you can even vote for it in the fans’ favourite episode poll here. No one could blame you…
With that, it’s time to say farewell. It’s taken a while to get into my groove in 2021, but I hope it won’t be long before I’m back with a review of Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – an episode that brings back another beloved guest star from the 70s: gorgeous George Hamilton. Don’t miss it, or you’ll be flunked from the class immediately. You have been warned…
This review is dedicated to all you kind, regular readers of the blog who have waited so patiently for this review to be published. You’re all my favourite!
Wow, that would be for me the worse Columbo episode ever. I would pass on Justin and Cooper low interest characters, at par with their actors performance and the number of plot holes already mentioned below, but the “coup de grace” for me is the huge editing mistake about the 2 murder weapons (MW).
It was already discussed below but not quite closed:
– There is one “MW” discovered in Mrs Columbo/”Doyle’s green car.
– The second MW is still in the killing machine under Justin’s car hood during the final garage scene. Columbo himself says at 1:28:30
“…and you can see it [the cartridge] even has the funny little scratch marks on the side, same as the one we found on the street last Thursday ” .
So Columbo is basically saying, this is the murder weapon.
Also it cannot be a mock up mechanism the police lab guys would have just installed for the demo, because Justin triggered it with his own remote control. (RCs are programmed to be somewhat unique to a car).
We know that directors capture more scenes to leave options during film editing (in this case 2 possible ending), but it is a huge mistake to have mounted in the final cut 2 CONTRACDICTORY episode endings. Each of the endings (1. the MW in the green car and 2. The MW in Justin’s car trigger by his own remote control) exclude the other one!
My guess is they wanted to fill the 90 min, or got greedy with good scenes and hope we would see. (Most did not…)
It adds to an idiotic story line: why would a killer think to remove the car from the crime scene, but forget to remove the mechanism from inside the hood for another week?! Why would Justin press the remote button?
Let alone all the details like the mechanism doesn’t fit under the (angled) shaker hood scoop, let alone shaker scoops have a function (feed huge qty of air in the carburetor. It could be a fake scoop… but not in a rich kid car so full on himself and his roll coal truck).
The magic of Columbo is the witty deduction of razor thin mistakes of smart killers. Not clumsy erroneous observation of redundant cream pie in the face” evidence from dumb killers. I have seem Columbofile blood boiling for far less! I am not sure why this rather insulting episode for Columbo’s intelligence gets on the top of the list! 😉
Most of us love this episode because it’s really entertaining. Analyzing half of Columbo episodes, even the top twenty, would find plenty of plot inconsistencies, illegal acts by Columbo, cases that would never hold up in court, etc. this episode has lots going for it; I don’t need to reiterate what the scores who like it find entertaining about it. But I get your points, although I don’t hold the same opinions.
Chacon a son gout!
I agree with you, Russ, though quite a few people seem to rank it at the bottom. But not me. IMO the script was cleverly written. The problem was in the *execution* — apparently a director who had no power to rein in Falk’s bad ideas. (The panties thing was Falk’s idea, and the star’s frequent interference seems have been why the director couldn’t achieve the right tone from the actors for a tongue-in-cheek script.) But, with all the flaws, there’s a lot that’s entertaining — more, IMO, than in some other episodes — and it’s wonderful to see young Andrew Stevens. He was an intelligent actor, but was constantly cast as the handsome hunk with no brains, which is probably why he stopped acting and got into directing and business instead. His mother, the actor Stella Stevens, died last week, by the way. The family resemblance was strong.
@Cris: “Andrews Steven”… Are you referring to “Murder in Malibu” by any chance? I agree with you : I quite liked this episode, and the very clever plot and Andrews’ acting excuses (IMO)t he a few execution issues..
Oops, yes, Murder in Malibu. I received a bunch of posts in a row from MinM, and just assumed this was another one. Should have looked more closely. Regarding Andrew, it’s interesting to read mother Stella Stevens’ obituaries from last week. Andrew’s typecasting as an actor was very similar to hers.
Yes fair point: “chacun son gout”! You are ok with plot inconsistencies if it’s entertaining… (and I am probably irritated by low-life that kill their teacher “just because they can”, and for getting caught cheating at a test…
But still, how do you explain the murder weapon can be at 2 places at the same time (one is shiny in the green car and the other one is black in the white car?). Do you just consider this as an small inconsistency?
Different guns, same make and model (hence the particular marks on the shell casing, presumably from the identical ejector mechanism) but the triggering apparatus mounted in the truck was the one placed there by the murderers. That’s why the remote key worked.
The legality of setting up a new gun without a warrant, let alone having a bunch of students standing in a garage with no instructions to stand clear of the truck’s grill, seem a bit iffy to me. But it’s the Columboverse and stuff like that happens in TV all the time.
But there’s another possibility: there was no bullet fired in Columbo’s parking structure demonstration. The mannequin’s head was rigged with a small explosive that was detonated remotely. All Columbo (or his techie assistant) has to do is listen for the keyless entry beep from the suspect’s truck, push their own remote trigger and pow! The shell casing inside merely a plant.
But why? To rattle the cage of the suspects. In a sea of “TV only” implausibilities, in real life Cops can and sometimes do lie about evidence as a tactic to get suspects to confess or to reveal something incriminating. I remember one real-life murder case specifically where the cops had a likely suspect, and had found the gun in a nearby lake, but they told the suspect that she wasn’t under investigation (a lie) and that they hadn’t yet found the gun (another lie) and were going to check the lake in a few days (lie #3). Sure enough she took the bait and under covert surveillance she was seen trying to find the gun exactly where she had dumped it after the murder, solidifying her guilt.
Anyway, we know Columbo and his techie colleague have access to remotes: they just used one to shoot another gun (a blank I hope) in the classroom (grossly irresponsible in my view but again, it’s TV) so it’s well within the in-universe possibilities. This would also explain why Columbo shows no concern for a ricochet, bad aim from the weapon mount, or the students milling around the Truck.
Has anyone ever heard or read that this ep. was said to be influenced by the case of Leopold and Loeb?
Obviously, it’s two close male friends who murder someone and think they’re a good deal smarter than Columbo, but I don’t really think that’s much of a connection.
I can see the resemblance except they had no motive but to kill, as opposed to covering up cheating to save their skin, weak as that may. Coincidence that Columbo victim Dean Stockwell was in the 1959 movie about the Leopold and Loeb murders.
Not just two close male friends, but also two college classmates who are the sons of wealthy parents. But the final tip-off is the alliterative names: Redman and Rowe. (Just like the fictional version of Leopold and Loeb in the novel and film “Compulsion” were given the alliterative names Steiner and Straus.)
By the way, Peter Falk was quoted making the Leopold and Loeb connection even before the episode aired originally in 1990. https://greensboro.com/falk-still-gets-his-kicks-from-alter-ego-columbo/article_fdbb62a1-cbcb-575f-85eb-14eebd7c1673.html
Wow. Thank you.
I never thought about the names. Ty.
I happen to be reading that book right now.
Columbo Goes To College is the best ever Columbo episode but I didn’t like how Rowe Senior ( Culp )
humiliated Columbo and agree that we should have seen
Rowe Senior’s reaction at the end in realising that Columbo was no fool and his own son was a murderer.
I like the episode and it’s probably answered before but: why was the whole set-up still in the car and the car-lock still firing a gun?
Columbo’s tech teams rigged up a new gun under the hood for the purposes of his demonstration.
okay, i see…i guess i heard that but the way the boys act when Columbo tells the one to use his car-lock device it seems (well the looks make it pretty clear) as if they never uninstalled it. and when did they reinstall a new gun?…the boys drive with the car around, stop somewhere, lock it…and shoot someone…or did i miss (too) that they knew about the new gun under the hood?
I believe the boys’ furtive glances are shown to indicate their dawning realization that Columbo is on to the murder means. They aren’t expecting him to find a gun under the hood but are spooked by this bloodhound sniffing around the truck/scene of the crime.
thanks! that is the nice interpretation and i thought of that too but to me its not very convincing and its still an extreme risk that the detectives take installing a gun under the hood and obviously they used ammunition sharp enough to blow the head off the model.
To me the episode is still great its just something that feels not really thought through…but it still makes a great Gotcha 🙂
Can someone please explain to me how the gun was shot through the car hood without making a hole in said hood? Thank you.
It was fired through the air vents on the hood. Coop drives a rude boy, souped-up hot rod!
I thought to myself that Justin would never have ADMITTED to being the murderer, much less in front of a bunch of witnesses – he is, after all, a lawyer’s son.
Yes, this is an A-List episode by any standards. I’m *glad* they didn’t have Justin’s father there at the end. The point, IMO, was for the two college kids to finally have to face consequences and deal directly with Columbo when the truth came out — and they did. The big reveal in the college parking lot did immediately make me say out loud to husband that the college would never have permitted that, but that’s a very minor quibble, I think. And, if Columbo’s fooling the kids with his wife’s car was basically the same idea as the fake apartment in “Friend,” that’s okay because it was credible in this episode, whereas I didn’t feel it was credible in the context presented by “Friend.” The way every detail comes together in just the right fashion is what makes this a superior episode.
Thoroughly enjoy your summaries and reviews! And all the comments as well. I’m almost 63 and absolutely loved Columbo growing up and often watch them with my wife. Still a lot better TV viewing than many current shows.
Great pop culture references to “Ferris Bueller” and “The Simpsons” in your review!
An opinion I have…
Justin and Coop were purposely trying to screw Columbo all along! They didn’t underestimate him at all; they knew his reputation well (perhaps Professor Rusk cited him or used his case histories as part of a text; he surely announced Columbo well ahead of the lectures). Columbo is the biggest big shot in the business; how AWESOME it would be to make him look like a total damned fool! (See “Columbo Cries Wolf,” after all.
I have a possible explanation as well for the gotcha scene in the garage. Ahead of time, Columbo informed all of the students EXCEPT Justin and Coop. He could easily get in touch with them through the registrar or via a campus phone book. My money is on the rest of the class cordially despising Justin and Coop just like Columbo does, and happy to rehearse the scenario with Columbo, and some police technicians, in the day or two before the re-enactment. Columbo could tell the registrar he was giving them a practical extracurricular assignment–and each of them got an A.
This episode did have an unfortunate weak ending. Columbo discharging a firearm in a College without any forewarning would have permanently damaged the hearing of all the students in the classroom and may have sent the entire College on lockdown once other classrooms heard the shot. The college would still be on high alert after the recent murder after all. On top of that, Columbo contrives for a firearm to recklessly fire at a bunch of students, an action that should end with Columbo behind bars, especially with Culp on the case. That and the media reporting that Columbo was responsible for a mass panic at the College that sent students fleeing for their lives in terror.
Indeed. That felt unnecessarily flashy.
My second problem of this episode would be the absurd amount of luck picking up the CCTV stream. That had some deus ex machina quality.
The ending would have been even better when Justin’s dad, the one and only Robert Culp, aquitted him and his lover Coop from all charges due to police misconduct. The icing on the cake: Justin imitating Columbo to his face while singing This Old Man. And why not? This is afterall the Columboverse!
The Columboverse applies here.
We like to think of Columbo catching the killers, dispensing justice to the villain with long and well-deserved jail time. But the reality of our universe is, the baddies will lawyer up and introduce reasonable doubt into their defense, and many of these cases would have trouble standing up in court.
But we’re not in our universe, we’re in the Columboverse. Levinson and Link were not applying strict reality standards in Columbo’s world. As writer Dana Schwartz explains, “[One] pleasure of Columbo…is in briefly inhabiting a world where everyone agrees on a clear set of rules. When the murderers are outsmarted, they politely turn themselves in…There is an elegance in their defeat, an acknowledgment of a game well played, and an understanding that there’s no point any longer in making a fuss.”
When the Gotcha happens, we see the reaction of the killer, and in that precise moment, we know that Columbo has won their mental competition. It may or may not be a totally logical, iron-clad legal victory (it certainly is doubly powerful if it is) but it is the emotional victory in the Columboverse that really counts. That doesn’t excuse crappy Gotchas like “T’isn’t” that aren’t convincing at all. It’s a delicate balance to reasonably persuade in equal measure Columbo, the killer, and the viewer.
“CGTC” tampers with the Columboverse. When presented with the evidence, Justin whines, “Don’t count us out, Lieutenant, because my father doesn’t like to see me fail!” That immediately triggers at least briefly imagining this case going to Columboverse trial. Hence, we get blog discussions like the one below about evidence that may or may not get thrown out in court. In most every other “Columbo” episode, that discussion’s a pointless time-waster. Link and Levinson would not approve.
[And if that legal debate has to happen, it makes sense to give Rich the benefit of the doubt unless there’s someone with equal bona fides weighing in.]
Glenn indirectly identifies the dilemma in which I periodically find myself whenever legal commentary surfaces on this blog. Because I wrote the original “What happens when Columbo’s cases go to court?” article in 2017 (which only covered episodes through “Requiem for a Falling Star”), and was asked occasionally to weigh in on specific legal issues thereafter (e.g., how much proof can you really squeeze out of the configuration of Gene Stafford’s shoelaces?), I feel some obligation to correct legal misinformation. But as Glenn correctly states, veering off into a legal discussion usually misses the point. Columbo was never intended as a “police procedural” TV show. It was never supposed to be “Law & Order.” Columbo is a mythic detective solving mythic “perfect” crimes with clever, dramatically satisfying solutions. Dramatically satisfying need not be legally satisfying.
This said, I will reiterate what I wrote in my 2017 article: that the preeminent legal question posed by Columbo is not whether Columbo crossed some legal line in his methods. Rather, it is: how much has he really proved? Yes, he may have proven an alibi false, or proved someone’s presence where he claimed not to be, or some other incongruity, but has he proved that this person committed murder (except through a fortuitous confession)? Sometimes he has. Sometimes he hasn’t. And sometimes he shouldn’t (because the “murder” wasn’t really a murder).
Only two Columbos truly bother me on the procedural side: “Mind Over Mayhem” and “Strange Bedfellows.” Others present debatable points about often defensible conduct — but as Glenn correctly reminds us: we ignore the point of Columbo when we go there.
Of all things, E.W. Swackhamer had directed the pilot for Law & Order during the winter of 1990.
I very much disliked that part of the CGTC ending because after 90 minutes of watching those two self-congratulatory punks, the viewer had earned the privilege of reveling in their crestfallen reactions to being gotcha’d.
Tossing in dialogue that exposes the potentially frail legal aspects to the case added insult to injury. That flaw is a big reason why I rate Columbo Cries Wolf a notch above CGTC in the 90s pantheon.
G4, you’ve hit on the type of “emotional victory” essential to the great “Columbo”s (personally, I find the micro-exactitude required for the Rusk killing is too cartoonishly specific to be convincing, but I recognize that viewer mileage on that point may vary).
There are several Laws of the Columboverse. It’s perfectly OK for writers to play with some of them, like the sartorial upgrade provided for an episode by a snappy new raincoat. And writers should feel free to try to tweak the inverted mystery formula, as Jackson Gillis did to (partial) success.
But whenever the 70s killers thought they had some wiggle room – “You can’t prove I did it, Lieutenant!” – Columbo would eventually play his final hand and the villain would be forced to fold. In this ep, Columbo plays his final hand….and then the killer doubles down, not on his innocence, but on his chances of getting off the hook! That’s short-sighted writing. Staying away from the legal gray areas is a Law of the Columboverse that should not be violated.
As much as I hate these two smug punks I still would have loved seeing Justin’s dad, Robert Culp get them off in court. I’m sure Hugh Creigton would have been proud!
And the icing on the cake would have been Justin impersonating Columbo to his face after he’s found not guilty. Link and Levinson would have been rolling in their graves!
Not in 1990. According to a quick check on Wikipedia, Richard Levinson died in 1987, but William Link passed away only recently in 2020.
I know I’m being an a-hole but you gotta admit that Justin did a pretty good Columbo! Just how did he get his eye to wander like that?!
Oh, I’ve always thought that Justin did a spot on impression of Columbo. Columbo impressions are common in the real world, but this is the only time that it happens in the TV series.
You could divide “Columbo” killers into two types: the ones who would have been better off doing nothing and just living with the problem they had, and the ones who were doomed either way and felt like they had no choice. After an episode ends I find myself wondering if the character wishes they had not tried to solve their problems at all, and if they long for the normal life they could still be living right now if they had done nothing.
On a related note, do you ever wonder which “Columbo” villains finished their sentence and got out and what their life was like? Kay Freestone made it clear that she intended to keep clawing her way to the top somehow. I guess whether you hope these people go free someday, having learned their lesson, and start living an honest life, depends on whether you feel like they were a sympathetic or unsympathetic villain.
As long as we’re freely speculating outside of the parameters of the episode proper, do you ever wonder what the characters do while they’re in prison? How they adjust, make a life for themselves behind bars? What would Nelson Brenner do with all his intelligence and talent? (I guess they could go full “Prisoner” and have him try to escape.) Being wealthy, high-status people, do they go to a relatively nice, minimum-security prison? I know none of this was the point of the series, but the better the show, the more it gets into your system and makes you think about it.
During the end demonstration, if the murder weapon had been removed and put in what turned out to be Columba’s wife’s car, why would there still be a gun in the truck rig to blow the head off the mannequin? Did Columbo put another gun in the rig without the boys knowing?
Yes, Columbo had his tech team rig up the gun set-up under the car bonnet.
CP, isn’t that called tampering with evidence? I wonder how Justin’s father would haved handled this in court. Too bad we never got to see the outcome…
Not sure of the legality of it all. The two weren’t read their rights before they confessed, so Rowe Snr will have a field day!
Columbo didn’t tamper with anything. Redman and Rowe planted the gun in Mrs. Columbo’s car. No one but they “tampered” with it. Meanwhile, Columbo (or his “lab boys”) conducted a test using a different gun. That’s not “tampering” — any more than when a police ballistics expert fires a suspect’s weapon to test its operability, or to conduct a ballistics match, is that “tampering.” Evidence is tested all the time. Testing is not tampering.
The tampering came not from the gun in the car, but from the mock setup in the truck. A new gun, a new remote control rig, a camera and all the rest. So lets say there were tool marks where the original gun rig was mounted. A good defense lawyer could argue that any marks could just have been left by the investigators when they mounted the new rig making any such evidence irrelevant.
And did Columbo have a search warrant to open the hood of that truck?
For all anyone knows, a mob assassin could have strapped himself to the bottom of the truck (easy, since it was raised) and used that has his sniper’s blind.
Implausible? Sure, but more than a tiny, battery operated video camera and gun rig controlled by a car alarm remote through feet of concrete and many walls.
Hopefully the gun in the car evidence isn’t tossed out, because the other evidence certainly could be.
Thanks, Kevin! You just perfectly explained what I meant by tampering with evidence. So who put the gun in Coop’s truck? Of course we’re not supposed to ask such questions but I’m sure even Hugh Creighton would have!
Hugh Creighton was a buffoon in the courtroom. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over the threat he posed. Particularly since, by the time the Redman and Rowe case would come to trial, Creighton would have much more pressing personal legal issues to deal with.
I presume that police examined and photographed everything under the hood before installing any test equipment. So any original marks certainly would have been recorded. Did police have a warrant? Maybe. Did they need one? No. There is an automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. The police would need probable cause that the car contained evidence — but the TV broadcast, together with the original position of the boys’ car (a fact Columbo witnessed), was enough probable cause showing that the car was involved in the murder. As for your assassin theory, the TV broadcast rules that out. As for the “gun in the car evidence” being “tossed,” that’s impossible as it was something the police possessed before opening the hood. Evidence in the boys’ car, that police seized from the car, might (in theory) be “tossed,” not a device the police made and already had. Nor could the TV broadcast or the Doyle gun planted in Mrs. Columbo’s car be “tossed.” That’s also true of the remote car lock seized from the boys incident to their arrest. It all adds up to make a compelling case.
All the broadcast means is that there was a camera, not that there was a remote control firing device. After all, a freelance assassin might want either documentary evidence of his contract’s fulfillment, or if he is in radio communication, confirmation of the target. Again, unlikely. But no less than an underground battery operated camera broadcast stepping on a satellite dish user’s signal, who is at least several blocks away, if not miles.
As for the cops documenting everything, you might presume too much. Evidence, even recorded confessions get tossed on occasion.
After all, this is the same Columbo who tossed an incriminating pearl into an umbrella, took a piece of gum from a waste bin on private property, and ATE evidence at least twice.
“There is an automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.”
That’s amazing, I didn’t realize there were Automobiles in 1789 when the Amendment was written.
Are you aware that Richard is a former prosecutor? I have to say I admire his patience.
So it has been claimed.
I appreciate Richard’s observations but it still seemed pretty shady. And let’s not forget Columbo letting Janet Leigh off scott-free. Oops!
Actually, he didn’t. He was moments away from arresting her. But before he could make the arrest, someone else voluntarily confessed. The confession was direct evidence that another person committed the crime. It’s more incriminatory than a theory about why a 1:45 movie took two hours to run. It was always his intention to arrest Grace if the confession proved to be false — but he had to deal with the confession first.
Thank you!!!!! Love the blog and review, and was desperately looking for an answer for this.
OK, so there were three guns: the murder weapon planted in “Dominic Doyle’s” car, the one used for the classroom demonstration, and the one used for the parking lot demonstration.
The classroom gun is probably loaded with a blank, but the one that the technical guys fit into the truck must have a live round, as it destroys the dummy.
Whatever the legality is of the police fitting the third gun in the truck, Columbo is risking lives by not warning anybody to stand out of the line of fire.
It just seems to be sheer luck that all of the kids stay on the right of the truck, as any of them could have broken formation to get a better view from the front.
This episode is not without it’s flaws, but it’s still my favourite of all of the “New Columbo’s”, including the one with lots of girls in bikinis.
Justin told Coop that he hated his father Jordan, who was pushing him to follow in his footsteps as a hotshot attorney. Could that hatred, that desire to distance himself from his father as much as possible, been another motive for Justin’s participation in Rusk’s murder?
Oh, so do you mean that Justin subconsciously wants to be caught in order to get back at his domineering father, by having the best reason for not becoming a successful lawyer like him? Could be.
I’ve always been puzzled by Justin saying about his father “He’s a sick man. I hate him” when he himself has just blown an innocent man’s brains out, and laughs about it afterwards.
Did I see Dr. Fleming at the dinner party when the Lt. went to see Mr. Rowe?
Just saw this episode again yesterday, and I noticed two things that I’d missed before.
1. Just how does Rusk know that Justin and Cooper stole the exam paper? (Sorry if this has come up before). I know that he’s a criminologist and therefore a detective of sorts, but did somebody snitch on the boys? (My money’s on Sachs).
2. Early on, when Cooper is arguing with his father, two girls in bikinis are walking along the beach, away from the camera. Were they extras, or just passing by? They are already some way off when we first see them, so if they were extras, it would have made more sense for them to have been in the foreground when we first see them, or in the distance and walking towards the camera. I’m all in favour of Columbo episodes with girls in bikinis, just so long as the story justifies it.
I would have enjoyed this episode overall, but I could not get past the idiocy of the whole storyline stemming from the remote’s signal ability to pass through at least several metres of concrete… if not through several floors!
Presumably, the remote operated on gamma rays, in which case solving the crime should be the last thing on the list of Columbo’s worries.
There is a line beyond which a viewer will not be able to overlook ignorance, laziness and failure to research even the most basic aspects of the subjects about which the “creator” tries to write, if those subjects form the entire foundation of the story. That was the line in this episode.
Whoever penned it may as well have opened it instead with: “Hey, Coop, I found this old book with a spell that will make someone’s head explode at long distances!” That would have been about as grounded in reality as that gamma remote. Hell, it would have been better, because it at least establishes a magical universe right away.
Hi Peyton. This is one of my favourite Columbo episodes (certainly of the “new” era) but I have also always wondered just how an ordinary car locking mechanism could transmit through all those floors and concrete.
Two ideas have just come to mind:
1). This gimmick makes for a good episode, but would be impossible to achieve in real life with the equipment available, therefore the writer only wanted to entertain, not provide a method to shoot people by remote control.
(This episode was made before military drone strikes I believe).
2). This is possible, provided that the locking signal was somehow “piggybacked” onto the TV signal, which could penetrate the concrete and floors. (You can probably tell that I’m no scientist).
I will nitpick your nitpicking : in fact no need for gamma rays, as long wavelength penetrate deeper (you can easily listen to radio inside a concrete building.) but your Columbo vs kira and his deathnote seems promising.
This was mentioned by a previous commenter, but I wanted to harp on it a bit more –
Something I was never able to figure out – right after the murder is discovered, when Justin offers to call 911 right away, why he took the time and trouble to hop into Coop’s truck, squeal the tires, exit the faculty parking garage, drive up the street to the next driveway, race in to a parking spot, run in to the same building that he and all the other students had just exited, only to run back to the guard desk to call 911. He was in a hurry to call 911 so why didn’t he just run back in to the building from the faculty parking garage? That would have been faster.
Yes, we know the real reason Justin volunteered to go call 911 was so he could also save the security tape (only the one he wanted to be saved, of course), and he might also have wanted to get Coop’s truck (the murder weapon) away from the crime scene. But this example of makes-no-sense behavior after a murder is exactly the kind of thing Columbo is famous for zeroing in on. But he doesn’t notice it.
Maybe the writers included that short hurried drive to the other parking lot as a way to explain how the shell casing ended up on the street. That’s pointed out to Columbo and the audience; yet Columbo never mentions the bullet casing until the very end, when he explains in passing how the casing have ended up in the street.
My question is why Columbo never bemoans that nagging loose end, of why a hypothetical killer would shoot someone in a parking garage, bend down to pick up the shell casing to avoid leaving evidence behind, somehow sneak out of the parking garage, then leave the shell casing on the street. Even accidentally dropping the shell casing on the street does not make sense to me, because the killer would not still be holding the casing in his hand while running out of the parking garage for his getaway. He would have stuck it in a pocket, not clench a freshly-spent bullet casing in his hand while he ran – those things are hot!
And a related higher-level question. Why did Justin want to save that one security camera tape in the first place? That’s the real reason he volunteered to call 911. If he had just let that tape get reused like all the others, the police would never know that the killer didn’t drive or walk away through the vehicle ramp. That key evidence is how Columbo started boxing the boys into a corner, because Coop’s truck was one of very few vehicles parked in the garage. Without that tape, it would have been easier for the boys to frame Dominic.
I think that Justin hurriedly saved the tape to establish his and Coop’s alibi. It proved that the shooting took place while they were in the classroom with Columbo, and all the other students.
My DVD kept sticking. Tried it in a computer and a DVD/Bluray player. Finally had to give up when it stamped its little feet and refused to go any further during the denoument. Fortunately, that last few minutes is posted on YouTube. Phew!
Would have been a shame, as it’s a brilliant episode.
“J&C would have had to maneuver their truck microscopically for ages to precisely line up the fatal shot.”
No. We will assume that the professor’s car was already parked when the boys parked the truck. All they needed to do was park more or less pointing straight at the driver’s door. Then, while watching the camera feed, adjust the camera/gun rig so that it points exactly where they want it. Notice that the tiny video screen had a small circle on it to help with aiming. No moving of the truck was needed.
I couldn’t find information for the LAPD, but I did run across a NY Times article from 1973 that said at that time the maximum salary for a NYPD lieutenant was $23,000, and that there were ways to boost their income, like night differential pay, overtime, and other perks. I’d say the LAPD likely had similar pay levels at the time, LA being the second-largest city, so I’d say the writers’ figure of $11,000 was too low.
That figure equates to roughly $58,000 in today’s money. But I think the $11,000 was a writerly device so the audience could equate Columbo’s salary to less than a thousand per month. This in juxtaposition to the maestro paying $150,000 in furniture.
I’m going to have to disagree on that figure. My inflation calculator says $23,000 in 1973 would be a little under $144,000.
This one reckons it would be about $136,000.
So somewhere around $140,000. To give you an idea of how that translates to buying power, in 1973 you could buy a new car for an average of $3,500. The average new car was up $46,000 this year.
Oh, I meant Columbo’s $11,000 salary.
The inflation calcs I’ve seen peg 1973’s Columbo’s stated $11,000 salary at anywhere from $67-69,000 in 2021. Of course, we have to consider how truthful Columbo is whenever he reveals personal info. It certainly played to his psychological
advantage to under-estimate his salary to allow the rich villains to write Columbo off as an unsophisticated blue-collar plebian (who’s totally unfamiliar with the fancy soaps “shaped like little lemons”).
The more I think about it, the more I think it was just that the writers thought it sounded about right.
How would he have coped with the three seashells?
Saw this last night on 5USA. There is an intriguing exchange shortly after the murder where Justin asks Sara if she has ever seen a dead body before. When he is asked if he has, he replies “Yes, but now’s not the time to talk about it”. What’s that all about?
This is presumably something that Coop knows about, but it’s never mentioned again. It might not have been connected with anything illegal (he says it in front of Columbo) but it may go some way to explaining his dark nature. Something to do with his father perhaps?
Interesting observation. I think, in the same way that Justin accompanied Jordan to the arrest scene of Dominic Doyle, that Justin had access to crime scenes and resulting case exposure as a teenager. Jordan made it clear to Columbo that he wanted Justin to exceed him as a top criminal attorney. Not only does Justin read his father’s mail and listen in on his calls, but I believe that Jordan offered insights and tutorials over the years to advance Justin’s acumen.
On a side note, I’m wholly convinced that not only would Justin’s legal team be more than willing to throw Cooper under the bus, but Jordan MIGHT even take the measure of suggesting that his draconian parenting drove Justin to dangerous lengths in order to succeed.