Nothing quite gives away a killer’s level of desperation than seeing them square up to Columbo with a good old threat to report him to his superiors.
The dastardly killers believe that such tough-talking will take the wind out of the bumbling detective’s sails and intimidate him into taking a different line of inquiry. We viewers know better, though, and can cherish the fact that Columbo is several steps ahead of them in solving the case, and that they are well and truly rattled.
There are, however, occasions when the Lieutenant’s conduct falls short of what most folk would consider ideal. And while we know he’s pure of heart, there are times when his methods and actions could be considered questionable, if not utterly inappropriate. That’s what I’m considering today.
“While we know Columbo is pure of heart, there are times when his methods and actions could be considered questionable.”
Before you start reading, I must point out that the aim of this article is FUN, not about bashing the Lieutenant too seriously for his lapses in judgement. As you know, no human alive loves Columbo more than I, so do take this all with a pinch of salt.
As a final aside, these are in no particular order except for the top three, which really ought to have led to internal enquiries taking place within the homicide department of the LAPD. I’ve also limited myself to one selection per episode to avoid the creep-fest that is Last Salute to the Commodore overly dominating the list.
Got that? Good. Then read on…
The funeral crasher – Negative Reaction
The sheer lack of respect Columbo shows at the funeral of Frances Galesko is beyond frustrating, as the detective ruins a solemn occasion by taking happy snaps of the attendees. While he claims he’s doing it in case the killer happens to be in the crowd, we know it’s a move designed to unsettle his chief suspect, bearded photographer Paul Galesko.
Quite simply, this kind of behaviour is not OK – even from as lovable a chap as the Lieutenant. Although obviously annoyed, Galesko really ought to have been foaming at the mouth in fury at the callous attitude Columbo adopts. A complaint to (and reprimand from) his superiors would have been Columbo’s just desserts – and might have prevented similarly disrespectful scenes at subsequent funerals in Murder Under Glass and Grand Deceptions.
The five-finger discount – Any Old Port in a Storm
I’m not averse to a little trickery from our man in the pursuit of justice – far from it. His planting of evidence in Death Lends a Hand and tricking Galesko into selecting the incriminating camera in Negative Reaction are clever moves I can really dig – even if they may cross some moral boundaries. What’s less forgivable, though, is outright theft from a suspect – especially when that theft is of a highly valuable, highly prized asset from a connoisseur’s cherished wine collection, and taken at a stage of the inquiry when the ends certainly don’t justify the means.
The bottle of 1945 vintage Ferrier Port Columbo pockets from the Carsini cellar must have been valued at the very least at several hundred dollars in early 70s prices. To steal this item, and then have it opened and consumed without the owner’s permission as a ruse to ensnare him, is a little hard for this viewer to stomach. I can easily see the Lieutenant receiving a gargantuan rap on the knuckles for his conduct here.
Columbo’s visit to Karen Fielding’s home, late at night, on a mission of limited importance, was also very close to inclusion in this list. The good Lieutenant was not adhering to expected levels of decency in this one.
The yoga menace – Last Salute to the Commodore
Hot on the heels of cuddling up with Charles Clay in his Peugeot, and shortly before tying the same luckless suspect up in phone cords, Columbo made a total pest of himself in front of the late Commodore’s fiancee, Lisa King, in a move that should have led to immediate disciplinary action.
Interrupting the spiritual young woman’s yoga session, he invaded her personal space in a creepy and thoughtless manner, even nuzzling up to the side of her face and neck in scenes that make for extremely discomforting viewing. A harassment claim against him would have been justified.
Of course, pretty much everything Columbo does in this episode is weird, crackpot or plain creepy. In reality, his actions throughout would more likely have seen him demoted to Sergeant than congratulated on a job well done.
Sweet Caroline – The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
Yes, I’m aware that this is actually an example of Columbo thoughtfully complimenting a character in need of a morale boost, but seen through a 21st century filter, his interactions with 14-year-old Caroline in the Sigma Society library have not aged well.
Informing a vulnerable junior that they’re a ‘remarkably pretty girl’ might sit better with a modern audience if Columbo had witnessed evidence of her being downtrodden or criticised for her appearance. He hadn’t, meaning that his comments add an unsettling element to an otherwise excellent scene.
Humouring a madman – Fade in to Murder
Fade in to Murder is an episode not to be taken too seriously, replete as it is with in-jokes and meta references to Peter Falk’s own fraught relationship with Universal. That notwithstanding, his approach to investigating this particular crime defies conventional description, with Columbo having to play along with the musings of an apparent madman to close the case.
With Ward Fowler slipping in and out of third-person references to his TV alter ego Inspector Lucerne, Columbo has to tread a tightrope in order to make sense of proceedings and to allow Fowler to dig his own figurative grave. Sadly, this type of policing has no grounding in reality and one must question why such a consummate professional chose to be complicit with such silliness.
The writers must have realised viewers would be scratching their heads at such antics, because they have an annoyed Sid Daley reprimand Columbo for indulging Fowler’s mania. “Will you stop calling him Lieutenant Lucerne?” cries the desperate producer as we close in on the conclusion. “He’s a television detective. You can’t conduct an investigation based on his suspicions.”
At that moment, we are all Sid Daley and one can imagine the irate TV exec making a stern call to LAPD head honchos to express his dissatisfaction pretty darn quickly.
The dance class rendezvous – Etude in Black
Call me a lib-leaning snowflake if you must, but the sight of a mac-wearing, cigar-smoking, middle-aged man wandering uninvited into a room full of leotard-wearing, pre-teen ballerinas sets some severe alarm bells ringing. That he’s there to grab the overly precocious Audrey is only adding fuel to the fire.
Theirs is an unusual relationship anyway, with Audrey establishing herself as the dominant partner despite her tender years. She also makes a quip in this very scene about whether Columbo is most impressed with her body or her mind – at which point a sensible detective ought to have run a mile before Audrey’s parents make a dangerous assessment of the nature of their relationship.
Rocking the dumb waiter – Murder Under Glass
A rather odd scene, and one that doesn’t portray Columbo in the best light, this is a rare example of faux aggression from the slippery detective in what is reminiscent of his altercation with Joan Hudson in Prescription: Murder 10 years earlier, with the Lieutenant getting heavy with a suspected weak link in his investigation.
Here we see Columbo roaring at timid young waiter Mario, accusing him of lying and of assassinating his uncle Vittorio. Given that Mario was already traumatised at having found his uncle’s dead body, this represents a cruel act by Columbo, and portrays him as an uncaring tool – a far cry from the kind and compassionate man we know him to be.
Luckily, poor, simple Mario doesn’t hold a grudge, because if I were Columbo’s senior officer I’d be putting a toe to his behind after this harsh treatment of a harmless and simpering youth.
3. Breaking and entering – Lady in Waiting
No neutral could have convicted Beth Chadwick had she gunned Columbo down in the finale to Lady in Waiting, as the detective is behaving in a most curious – some would say highly inappropriate – fashion.
Not only does he deliberately scare a lone, scantily clad female by rattling her window frames at the dead of night, but he goes several steps further by actually entering her home and her bedroom without invitation (although presumably with a warrant).
We all know that the good Lieutenant had no sinister intentions towards the delectable Miss Chadwick – but that doesn’t excuse this late-night intrusion that could very easily have been interpreted as him hoping to have his wicked way with her, and that could justifiably have led to his death. Yikes!
2. Married to the mob – Strange Bedfellows
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t an officer of the law supposed to avoid collaborating with the Mafia in the course of normal duties? Here, Columbo incinerates that unwritten rule by teaming up with mob boss Vincenzo Fortelli and his hired goons to draw a confession out of two-time killer Graham McVeigh.
Lacking the requisite proof needed to nab McVeigh himself, Columbo is only able to solve the case by setting up an elaborate set-piece in which he allows his chief suspect to be roughed up, held against his will and threatened with summary execution. Only under this extreme duress does McVeigh confess and provide the needed proof to allow Columbo to place him under arrest.
This behaviour is wrong on so many levels that I wonder how Peter Falk, as Executive Producer and custodian of the character, ever allowed it. Mob collusion goes against Columbo’s inherent nobility in every way, while embroiling the Lieutenant in a wealth of felonies that a man with his moral compass would have avoided at all costs. The pally farewell he has with Fortelli at the end of the episode is an insult to fans.
1. The stitching of Neil Cahill – Mind Over Mayhem
If his antics in Strange Bedfellows were more dangerous, Columbo’s stitch-up of the troubled and completely innocent Neil Cahill in order to draw out his murderous father Marshall was just as immoral and may well represent his most heartless act.
Cahill Junior has had enough on his plate dealing with constant browbeating by his overbearing father for decades. Being an unwitting pawn in a sting operation that saw him arrested for murder and in which outright lies were cooked up about his relationship with a married woman, therefore, seems pretty rough justice.
It’s even harder to accept when you consider it all came hot on the heels of Neil bravely admitting to having plagiarised his award-winning theory of molecular matter. This earned him further ire from his hard-to-please pappy, making Neil’s day a seriously bad one on multiple levels.
Despite Columbo’s feeble promise that Neil would swiftly be released from police custody following Marshall’s confession of murder, that’s unlikely to be much comfort for the younger Cahill who has been traumatised and seen his entire life turned upside down. It all equates to a desperately poor show from the Lieutenant, whose nice guy image takes one hell of a beating.
“Columbo’s stitch-up of the completely innocent Neil Cahill may well represent his most heartless act.”
There we have it, folks. I’d be most interested to hear your thoughts on the above list and any other examples where you believe Columbo’s superiors might have had reason to haul him over the coals, or that saw him fall short of his usual behavioural standards.
I’ll remind readers again not to take this list too seriously. You may not agree with everything I’ve written, but PLEASE don’t report me to my superiors…
All those rude/questionable actions are part of Columbo’s character. He doesn’t really care about social etiquette. He is always apologizing too much to try to cover this and not be too rude. The apologies are not heartfelt, they are perfunctory–he sees them as necessary to his job.
Columbo is a human pit bull, who latches onto the murderer’s pants leg and won’t let go. He enjoys torturing these people, once he is sure they are guilty. He doesn’t care if he soils their carpets, eats their food, or ruins their parties or golf games. He figures they have it coming. And it works to make them nervous. The crude, annoying little man in the raincoat haunts them, probably starts to appear in their dreams–or nightmares. They start to panic, and then they make mistakes.
How about counselling
a minor to shoot blanks
at her stepmother in Ransom for a Dead Man?
The FBI man threatened Columbo that
he would take any harrassment of Mrs.
Williams “upstairs”. Maybe he should have.
I recently bought the original Columbo book and it is mentioned that the creators viewed this more as “fantasy”. You can’t take everything seriously. Columbo would never make it as a cop now. And probably not back then either. It wasn’t supposed to be a “normal” cop show. Columbo would have been fired a long time ago. How many times have we seen him reach into his grubby raincoat pocket and pull out a key piece of evidence to show to the murderer – and it usually isn’t in a protective bag. How many times have we seen him raid the icebox or eat food from the crime scene. How many times was he looking for an ashtray to dump his egg shells into. No one ever wears gloves and the crime scenes become the proverbial “bull in a china shop” with cops probably doing more harm than good. You just need to accept that. Him showing up at a funeral to take a few pics is not a big deal. They amplify the camera sound for us – but no one would have heard it outside at a gathering of 30 people spread out. Who cares about giving him a few words of encouragement to the young girl in the Bye Bye Sky High episode. Getting into bed with the Mob and bringing in false witnesses is another thing. It is a rare thing for him to come up with ironclad evidence front to end that would make it through a trial and appeal. Assuming the murderer didn’t cave in and confess at the first sign of trouble. Columbo had a brilliant mind to figure out what was going on – like the classic detectives of old – just he wasn’t a great cop. That is what makes him so appealing. He refuses to take his firearm re-certification and doesn’t wear a uniform and drives his own car. A lot of times with his dog in tow. Not realistic. But great stuff.
And I watched The Conspirators last week. Certainly not going to claim it is the best episode – but I really like it. Keep an eye out next time you view it. When he goes back to the crime scene – right before the murderer shows up – he is trying to figure out what is going on with the bottle. Well. The bottle would have been logged in as evidence on day one and removed from the crime scene. Columbo is kicking it around – and there isn’t even any top on it.! So it is spilling out more booze on the carpet right where the murder occurred.
Well that’s the beauty of inventing a truly imperfect character. TV is fraught enough with the perfect hero. But writers who include those flaws in Columbo do so exactly to make him memorable! That’s what his rumpled raincoat symbolizes. How many TV characters wear anything less than perfect costuming. A fight in one scene, they come back in the next scene all cleaned up (as if we don’t notice).
Columbo took a great step forward in the ability to create conversation around every episode. Perpetual conversation. To chat endlessly about many things with no solid conclusions is the brilliance of Columbo’s Production Team!
Tommy — You hit the nail(s) squarely and convincingly on the head — with your succinct analysis of this unique and entertaining show! Bravo!
I never thought of the show as “fantasy” per se, but the label certainly fits. For me, the eating and smoking at a crime scene really drive me nuts far more than anything else.
It’s especially bad in Agenda for Murder and Double Exposure where Columbo directly eats evidence. (Some of it literally right next to a dead body!!!)
But as much as I love Louis Jourdan (Married to the same woman for 68 years!) Murder Under Glass hurts my brain. That episode is MADDENING. The killer is summoned to the crime scene where a poisoning murder has just taken place (how anyone could know that without an autopsy is another matter) and there we find Columbo chowing down like he hasn’t eaten in a week.
Not only is this extremely unprofessional, it’s shockingly irresponsible. Columbo states that the Chef had assured him that everything was safe…BUT HOW WOULD THE CHEF KNOW? Either the Chef is the killer and knows specifically what is and isn’t safe in his kitchen, or he has no idea and everything could be potentially lethal.
And why assume only food could be poisoned. It could have been a utensil, plate, glass, the napkin…almost anything.
But it gets worse: When he interviews other restauranteurs we see Columbo staring at Mushroom Scaloppini (or something like that) from about 5 inches away, looking at it as though it was the treasure of King Solomon -while breathing all over what would have been someone else’s dinner. But it doesn’t matter because he eats it anyway, without a single care about the poor sap who actually purchased the dish in the first place. That’s just plain rude!
I suspect an actual detective could write a whole book on the violation of the rules of evidence and protocols seen in the show. But that food thing…man!
Not to mention that they might
of mixed up Columbo’s order.
Like the Gary Larson cartoon of the guy chowing
down on a meal in a restaurant, but his eyes bulge
as he overhears something. It’s a duck at a table,
complaining to the waiter: “Hey, this is spaghetti!
What happened to my Earthworms Alfredo?”
I find the mob one the worst, by far, it really ruins the ending. I guess arresting an innocent person is also over the line, but I don’t really mind the ones where Columbo steals/seizes evidence without a warrant.
This article is really reaching in trying to establish that Columbo’s conduct or decisions in certain instances were “inappropriate.” True, Columbo may, at times, push the limits of what may appear to be permissible or appropriate conduct. But the instances cited in this article to “prove” inappropriate conduct are a stretch.
If you follow real law enforcement cases, as I do, Columbo is a saint by comparison. For a real taste of law enforecement, consider the case of James “Whitey” Bulger, a Boston mob kingpin linked to at least 19 murders, captured in 2011 after 16 years on the loose. Bulger was a former “Top Echelon Informant” for the FBI. And the FBI was complicit in Bulger’s many murders. As Boston Globe reporters Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy explained in a biography of Bulger, the Bulger ruled South Boston for nearly two decades, “protected by the arrogance and corruption of an FBI and a Justice Department that tolerated murder as an acceptable price of doing effective law enforcement.”
And what about the lies, deceptions, corruption, and coverups carried out by the LAPD in the murder investigation of Senator Robert F. Kennedy?
I could could go on and on about police and law enforcement’s deliberate failings in the real world, but these high profile examples will suffice.
No, professionally and personally, Columbo can do no wrong. He’s the paragon of virtue and appropriate conduct.
I’m surprised that 4 people were offended by my post. What offended you more? My exposure of the criminal activities of the FBI and the LAPD? Or my view that Columbo’s activities were perfectly reasonable and appropriate by comparison? Do tell.
I think that I agree.
What the original
creators intended, and what they actually wound
up producing, are probably miles apart. I do find
that Columbo’s conduct generally, is appropriate.
He has integrity, treats people with respect, and
does not drink on the job. The creators may have
gone too far in establishing a cop who plays by
the rules most of the time.
Where the show breaks with reality I believe is
the scope of each murder case. Generally requiring
a lot more evidence, many more detectives, and much
more time to close a case. The show must condense,
time and details to a ninety minute show. Giving us
in the end, only the bare minimum of evidence, and
what of that is the most critical.
When it comes to Columbo, in fairness, you don’t have any superiors.
Very entertaining stuff, as always. In “Troubled Waters” Columbo was asked to investigate and was way out of his jurisdiction, but surely even then he’d have got in trouble for disregarding the evidence (albeit it planted) against Lloyd Harrington.
Could I recommend a series of short films I’ve discovered on YouTube by comedian Tim Vine where he does short homemade recreations of scenes from Colombo episodes including Patrick Mcgoohan and Leonard Nimoy – good fun!
Awesome, just checked those out, the Stitch in crime cover was fantastic, funny and good stuff.
What a discovery! The Tim Vine videos are excellent. Do check them out! DVD is simply brilliant
Holy Christmas! These are terrific!
Great comments as usual. But how about the time Colombo had another officer take his shooting test for him. Now that is clearly insubordination as well fraud.
I’m all in favor of his actions by the way. Just saying
I think that was from How To Dial a Murder?
If memory serves me, a plain-clothes officer gave
him the reprimand.
oh! I just thought of another one….in the second Shatner episode….Butterfly in Shades of Grey…..he pretends there is a witness saying Fielding Chase hired him to commit the murder…then has cops disable his car when they both go to HQ to refute this false witness……not going to fly in court 🙂 In fact, LAPD would be so busy with Columbo lawsuits, I doubt they would let him near a case. 🙂
especially since we know that Fielding Chase will be all over this on this radio show, riling up his fans to go after the LAPD!
It’s all academic anyway. Our beloved Lieutenant was never going to be sidetracked by his boss upstairs, and we’ve shown ourselves to be inferior detectives by ignoring the vital piece of evidence that proves it, Columbo’s statement the very first time this sort of threat was thrown at him, in Prescription Murder when Dr. Flemming tried – and failed – to get him taken off the case: “He’s very intelligent, my superior.”
We also meet his captain in Negative Reaction, who appears to be a complete boob (must have been a new guy)!
Ah, but I have it on very good authority (the best, in fact) that those who SEEM to be complete boobs are not always what they appear to be!
Which just goes to show that Columbo
plays his hunches, refusing to take things
at face value. It’s never “just the facts, Ma’am” for
He looks for the little mistakes. In this episode, the bits
of paper that should have been there, The patsy not
having to get his license the day before. The murderer
believing the time on the clock in the kidnapping photo
has deceived police. The murderer knowing what
camera they used to take the photo.
Aha! Deputy Commish Mark Halperin would have obviously OKed the false arrest of Neil Cahill…..
My favorite of these scenes is the one in “A Case of Immunity”: “Well, that’s all very well and good except for one thing. … He’s the murderer.”
Columbo’s inappropriate behavior or comments towards women – young and old – is partially due to the era but there is also another incident in the Dawn’s Early Light episode which would also be severely frowned upon today where our Lieutenant asks to stay the night but eschews the offered guest house – instead wanting to be in the barracks = “Life, you know” – well, fine then, but a middle aged man today wanting to share the sleeping quarters, bathrooms and showers of 16 and 17 year old boys would not be kosher in today’s world. Different and more innocent times.
Gosh…or gee whiz as Columbo would say…curious to know why this comment would be voted down….
Who voted it down?
“Marshall Cahill”. Wow. I just got the joke. A year earlier, John Wayne made a picture that even he didn’t like, “Cahill, U.S. Marshal”. I suspect the writers (Bochco, Hargrove and Kibbee) put this in as joke, expecting it to be flagged and changed. Apparently, no one else got it either. (Maybe I am imagining it, but I don’t think so. Hollywood is a pretty inside kind of place.)
Incidentally, Wayne blamed the writers for the shortcomings of the aforesaid bowwow of a movie, even though he himself was its executive producer and had every opportunity to fix the script.)
John Wayne would have
made an interesting villain,
so maybe they intended to grab his attention.
I’m not sure if he ever played a bad guy on
Incidentally, Wayne won the Golden Turkey
for the worst casting of all time, for his role as
Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. I wonder
what his excuse was for that one.
I am generally aware when watching my favorite shows and movies that I am there to be entertained and that certain plot devices may be employed to either allow me to see into the mind of a character or to set a mood or provide a turning point for the plot to pivot upon, etc. And I realize that one must always be willing to suspend one’s judgment or beliefs, to a point, in order to buy into the premise and enjoy the show. So I have never let these thoughts keep me from enjoying Lt. Columbo, and even though at the end, I often can’t help thinking that the perp will never be convicted on the evidence presented, amongst other things, I still can say “good show.” Still Last Salute to the Commodore is just so weird and Columbo’s cozying up to Lisa King never struck me as weird as just another incident of the totally weird and wacky way Falk played Columbo in this episode. I notice that Patrick McGoohan directed the Commodore episode and I found the same kind of bizarre, out-of-character over-the-top kind of exaggerated takes in Ashes to Ashes, also directed by McGoohan.
I know that Commodore was the last episode of season 5 and with all the references to Columbo quitting (his cigar smoking) and then rowing off at the end with him saying, he’s not quitting, maybe there’s an allusion to more going on behind the scenes that I am aware of. I really don’t know what McGoohan and Falk were trying to do in that episode. But since the whole episode seems to shout out to us “don’t take any of this seriously folks!”, none of the scenes in it struck me as creepy, just forgettable and downright bizarre. Even so, I nevertheless, on balance, can still enjoy even the Last Salute to the Commodore, despite such takes detracting from my overall enjoyment. But that’s the worst. The rest will not get in the way of me enjoying any of the other episodes again (well except for maybe Strange Bedfellows – I really did not care for that episode moreso because the whole story stretched the suspension of my judgment and belief beyond the breaking point for me – I just couldn’t buy anything in that one.)
I think if we put “Strange bedfellows” on the list then “Case of immunity” should also be there. After all if we set aside thobes and fake arab names of the participants the basic premise is the same: Columbo forces a suspect to confess threatening him with violence from a third party interested in the outcome of the case. The only difference is the characters: the murderer Salah is a particularly mean bastard and the third party is not a criminal boss but a supposedly benevolent king (obviously modelled on the shah of Iran, which makes the whole idea rather dubious, because by the mid-70’s he was mostly known not for the reformist zeal that marked his rule in the 60’s but for brutal methods his notorious political police employed that would have put all Cosa Nostra competition far behind).
My friend, as someone who emigrated from Iran in the early 80s I can assure you that things weren’t half as bad as you describe. Was it paradise on earth? Of course it wasn’t. There were problems within the system of government just as there are everywhere else in the world. But try holding hands with your significant other out in the open now & you’ll be reprimanded in a heartbeat. Gay or lesbian? Might as well uproot & move somewhere else. And I dare not mention the stoning of women that’s been a regular occurrence since “revolution “. I know this is kind of off topic but in good conscience I couldn’t let this go un-addressed.
Appreciate the perspective Bell, thanks for posting.
I know shamefully little of either country’s history, but other posters have convincingly noted within these comments that the Columbo character in question was more likely based on King Hussain of Jordan, not the Shah.
Absolutely no shame in that G4 & I really appreciate your response as well.
I just want to see the responses!!
Great stuff Columbophile,
Thoroughly enjoyable read and had a really good laugh!
Cheers Rod! I like to think regular readers know I don’t take things too seriously on here.
I’m with you on Strange Bedfellows. Aside from all the scenery chewed up & spit out by Rod Steiger, it makes George Wendt (who was cast against type in the first place) a sympathetic babyface.
George Wendt killed two people, including his brother. Absolutely nothing that took place afterwards could make him a “sympathetic babyface”, lol. Plus, the other guy he killed was related o the mobsters who were harassing him. He had it all coming and was in now way. shape or form a sympathetic character.
Thanks for the laugh! Some readers seem to be taking this way too seriously. Columbo eyeing up Julie Newmar as she did yoga, and commenting that he ‘enjoys watching’ could also be construed as a little creepy. No wonder she asked him to leave!
Poor Columbo couldn’t put a foot right with the ladies in that episode…
This episode has one of my favourite lines:
Rocky the Doctor: “…I’m green.”
Mrs Peck: “You’re purple!”
You have the right episode, but the wrong moment. In “Bye Bye” Columbo says in reference to Brandt’s umbrella, “we’re not supposed to gather evidence this way” as he explains that he took Brandt’s umbrella instead of his own when his visit at Brandt’s house was over. But, he goes ahead and uses the evidence gathered from that umbrella anyway. I’m not a big time lawyer, but I’m pretty sure prosecuting a case on illegally obtained evidence is kinda sorta frowned upon.
Columbo’s actions during William Haynes’ service were also pretty ropey. He couldn’t wait until after the service to ask his question, he had to interrupt during the prayer?
While this doesn’t quite fall into the category of necessitating a reprimand from superiors, I always bristle at the forced attempt at humor when Columbo cracks his egg upon the bloody tire iron used to kill Sharon Martin in “A Stitch in Crime.” It goes against first-week-at-the-academy training and is a clumsy use of his behavior when fatigued, which was better illustrated by his thoughtlessness at the Paris home with his dropped cigar ash.
I tend to agree. The scattering of the eggshell on the floor when he first arrived was a better indication of his sleepiness. Using what he knew to be the murder weapon to crack his egg seems a step too far. They certainly over-egged the pudding with the gags there!
Yes, his stunt at the end of Lady in waiting could have ended in a couple of different disasters, but it provided maybe my favorite Columbo conclusion ever, when Beth is going to shoot him and he disarms her by telling her that she’s not going to pull the trigger; she’s “too classy a woman.” And then as she gets dressed to go to jail, he walks out onto the porch and stands there in the dark, weighed down with sadness at what he had to do to this woman who was a killer only because she was first a victim. Falk was never better.
The nice killer is something of a recurrent theme. Personally, I don’t but it for one moment. Beth is a vicious psychopath, kills without need or remorse. She has millions of other options.
Killer without remorse…at all….. no scruples… like the “lady lawyer”….
Sometimes I get more than a hint of noir-ishness from Columbo, like in this ending. Also when he goes to dinner we with Carson and Karen when the valet takes his car.
Strange Bedfellows was fairly entertaining, but in my opinion the most egregious and unlawful behavior by far.
“Mind Over Mayhem” clearly tops the list. But I’m surprised some other conduct wasn’t included. The costly and baseless excavation in “Blueprint for Murder”? The pointless and disruptive search in “Columbo Cries Wolf”? Both harmed major commercial enterprises. Those are the kinds of police actions that prompt letters to the Commissioner from large and powerful law firms.
Certainly Detective Chief Superintendent Durk must have written to the LAPD after “Dagger of the Mind,” thanking them for their assistance in solving the Haversham-Tanner murders, but appending a strongly worded paragraph making it clear that “we here at the Yard take strong exception to the planting of false evidence under any circumstances. It just is not done.”
And then there were the several letters of complaint from Mrs. Peck (“Double Shock”). “Don’t you teach your policemen anything!?”
I think in Blueprint the excavation could be justified as there was always a reasonable chance this might reveal the body, but on balance Columbo assumed his adversary was too cunning to go for the obvious.
An awfully damaging hunch from the building owner’s point of view. The lawyers would definitely have been up in arms. Remember, too, that Harkham was only the architect. It wasn’t his building getting ripped apart.
Indeed, Richard. I find the ham-fisted gotcha in “Dagger” to be the weakest of all.
Alhough if that development was part of Williamson City, old Bo wasn’t exactly around to file the complaint. 😉
Taking the wine from Carsini crossed any line you can think of but I think he did this again in Bye Bye Sky High when he admits to “accidentally” on purpose taking the umbrella from the house and then having it tested. Not ok! 🙂 Also in Dagger of the Mind he flat out plants evidence with the pearl bead inside the umbrella in the wax museum.
Right on! We all love Columbo & I am endlessly inclined to give him a pass – but these are great examples of squirmy to police work. Admittedly, when Audrey behaves like a little vixen he says something sheepish like, “Hey…give me a break,” which I found redemptive. The gents on the fabulous Columbo Podcast often discuss these breaks from police decency.
Another great entertaining piece – many thanks! Columbo will have to work a lot harder to alienate his loving fans!
Now, I ain’t no law enforcement expert, but it seems like Detective Malpractice 101 to be expounding on your theories of an active, sensational murder investigation to a roomful of dinner guests, including unpublicized details of the case! That’s what we see in “Deadly State of Mind” as a bunch of Dr. Mark Collier’s doctor friends and wives get to hear Columbo’s musings on the poker-whacking of Karl Donner. I can only suppose that Columbo felt that the very public airing of hypotheses would help tighten the screws on the diabolical Doc, judging by the studied expressions Columbo throws in his direction as Collier makes pithy comments and punches up his swan-dive-off-the-balcony telephone call to Nadia.
As for the conversation with Caroline – indeed, any of the young ladies mentioned here – they are all representative of a generational culture shift skewing perceptions. In 1977, this exchange was perfectly acceptable. (Not 2021, mind you, but 1977.) Certainly, the Columbo producers and Peter Falk himself would never knowingly corrupt the character’s brand. That’s a cultural barometer that we should use be using here. If any of those instances had been reported, that would presume that there would be penalties coming for the Lieutenant as a result. There wouldn’t be, except for maybe a very mild wrist-slap. That’s different than today, where there would be – rightfully – stronger consequences for those actions.
And keep in mind that this is the era where it was also acceptable for executives to keep copies of men’s magazines, replete with centerfolds, in their office waiting rooms (“Make Me a Perfect Murder”).
If, like me, you are interested in social as well as economic history, these social quirks and “embarrassments” are a major reason for watching the shows. If it was just the odd word here or there, they could be edited out – as is common practice with films from the 1950’s for instance.
Context is everything. Some behaviors are reprehensible no matter the era – murder crosses that moral boundary whenever it happens. Other behaviors shift as societal morality evolves (or, some would say, devolves). In popular culture, disclaimers are a good way to provide context to what we deem today to be “inappropriate” words and actions. Disney+ is doing this with Muppet shows that step on that boundary (although the episodes I’ve seen with disclaimers have so far been for small lapses in Muppet conduct). And, as you note, Mark, knowing that there will be an “inappropriate cultural behavior” in a show heightens our curiosity to see it.
My question is, how did 1974 viewers and TV critics react to Columbo’s false arrest of Neil Cahill? It seems reprehensible now, but was there an outcry that Columbo crossed a moral boundary and did the audience opinion of the Columbo character take a hit as a result? Did ratings drop? I was a, let’s call it, “late teen” when that episode aired, and I certainly don’t recall any hue and cry over it. Of course, message boards and blog posts were still a long way away from generating discussion and influencing opinion.
The blatantly unlawful arrest of Neil Cahill wasn’t merely a moral issue (which theoretically could be guided by societal norms at the time) but also a legal issue. Even in 1974, police couldn’t legally trump up false charges in order to knowingly arrest an innocent person for ulterior reasons. Whether Marshall Cahill had standing to complain about Neil’s arrest (and its affect on his confession) is a more difficult question. I wasn’t practicing law back then. But Neil certainly had every right to scream to the heavens about his treatment. And the LAPD would be hard-pressed to cite the lack of a public outcry in its defense.
Absolutely, the legal issue trumps the moral issue – it was illegal, full stop. But now we’re venturing down the very grey area of whether or not folks in 1974 would raise the kind of objections to Neil’s arrest that we would today. How much has our tolerance for police misconduct evolved? Certainly, at the time, Columbo producers and Peter Falk himself must have felt that the instant mea culpa after Marshall’s confession would let Columbo off the hook, morally. We can look back now and say that was very misguided on their part.
And when we speculate about fictional acts and fictional reactions from fictional characters and real acts and real reactions from real people – reacting to fictional events and fictional characters – today and from 47 years ago, my head spins in that “Am I Ward Fowler or Detective Lucerne” kind of way.
TV cops who go outside the bounds have rarely bothered TV execs. Remember Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue? One critic described him as a “drunken, racist goon with a heart of gold” who somehow was still “the moral core” of the show.
And there was Detective Belker on Hill Street Blues who was known to bite suspects.
I have always wondered if there was a contemporary uproar over the full volume playing of Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down (“Lord I wish that was stoned”) in Swansong. I’m pretty certain this wouldn’t have been allowed on most US radio.
Seventies music radio….my wheelhouse. The song was a #1 Country Billboard hit for Cash, which would not have happened without massive country radio play. I could find no mention of an edited version, and this comes from Rolling Stone magazine:
“For years, tales of nervous ABC censors have surrounded Cash’s first performance of the song for a nationwide TV audience, with the 2009 Rolling Stone profile noting that Kristofferson watched backstage at the Ryman Auditorium, where the episodes were taped, as censors approached Cash to suggest changing the line, “Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned,” to “Wishing, Lord, that I was home.” Kristofferson protested it would change the meaning of the song to leave the word “stoned” out, but added that he trusted Cash to handle it properly. What Cash did next was … nothing. He sang the song as written. In fact, in all subsequent performances of the song on the show, the word “stoned” remained, so if the censors did take issue with it at first, they got over whatever fears they had.”
There would be an uproar over this but not over the murder of his wife and an innocent young woman (g)? Anyway, there was rawer stuff being played on the radio those days–e.g. the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper”–or lots of other Stones songs.
The 70s- such different times- the world changed so much- what maybe was ok then is not anymore…. Columbo’s world took place in the 70s-the NBC years..so long ago..His interactions with kids and teenagers should be seen through different lens…like the little girl in “Etude in Black”. In the end, is a tv show…very well done….
Yes I agree with you Columbo’s behavior toward the meditating woman Lisa King was very creepy. I can imagine the smell of his cheap cigars on his breath. Realistically, maybe he would’ve gotten away with this in the 70s. Lisa King was engaged to an old man after all. Maybe it didn’t bother her. The big problem for me is that it makes him less likable, which bothers me because I like him so much!
Of course, every complaint requires a complainant. I can’t see Lisa King — who thought “Mr. Swanson was the most beautiful man who ever lived,” who only wanted to “sail the seas with him” and “make him happy for the rest of his life” — leaving that spiritual plane to make a complaint against Columbo. And Caroline certainly wasn’t upset by Columbo’s conduct. Did she rush home to tell her parents that a police lieutenant in his late 40’s called her a “remarkably pretty girl”? Possibly, but I tend to think that Caroline kept this compliment all to herself.
Another fun post. But i don’t agree with the Bye Bye entry, i think people read too much into it honestly. I wouldn’t take it seriously, i think he was just being nice to her. if he tried to touch her that would be different but northing physical happens.
The modern p.c world….😒
Agree. Having it on the list makes it into something it’s not.
Happy Sunday! Let’s see- Involving a minor 👓👩🏻🦰(guess 17?- actress Patricia Mattick was 19) in the plot to bring down the criminal in “Ransom for a Dead Man”-the lady lawyer giving her a gun- even with blanks- and having her taunt the potential murderess- if not illegal- is quite risky and highly questionable…. What if the lady lawyer decided to get rid of her, too? Unlikely but somehow possible- let’s remember she had no scruples…. 😮
Yes, when he tells Caroline Treynor in The Sky High IQ episode- that she is remarkably pretty (or something along those lines) and her reply (playing 14 – actress – 👓👩Carol Jones-was 21- almost 22)- that’s a weird exchange nowadays- maybe not so in 1977, or 1971… different times.
And how about the “how can you work for a woman” exchange with Michael Clark- John Fink- in “Ransom”- nowadays he will get in such big trouble- back then, probably not so…..
Different times…. interesting post.
Be well, be safe,
The Sky High episode also has that scene where Columbo discusses the difference between the secretaries – the male ones who learn the business and then move on up and the ‘girl type’ secretaries who work for them!!
Different times indeed. …..
I forgot about that exchange in Bye Bye…definitely a product of its time! That being said, Brandt’s dressing down of his secretary has to be one of the nest scenes ever 🙂 I cannot watch Ransom for a Dead Man – the step daughter was so soap opera caricature that I wondered why Lee Grant didn’t bump her off instead. Excruciating to watch.
I always marvel at how many people criticize the victim/stepdaughter and praise the criminal stepmother- if I had a penny every time I came across these arguments, be a millionaire by now.. 😉
it is a TV show 🙂 no one here (I hope!) condones murder in the real world! :)) And we bring a far greater microscope to each episode than was ever intended…that is the fun of it. We are all free to like characters or dislike them based on the narrative…..I’m sure all of us love Columbo the character- that is why we’re here 🙂 yet we can still find fault with things he does….no one is perfect. The step daughter character was to me one of the most odious in the entire series…..poorly acted or directed or written or a combination of all 3…I have the same objection to Andrew Stevens in Murder in Malibu….another swing and a miss. To praise Lee Grant – or Jack Cassidy or Robert Culp – is not to say we approve of their actions but to say these were actors at the top of their game and worthy foes to our beloved “rumpled little dumbbell” 🙂
Of course it’s a tv show, but why people have to always criticize the stepdaughter… and with so much venom? It always amazes me why this character of a bespectacled teenager that lost her mother to an illness and her dad was just murdered- elicits so much dislike. Maybe people buy into the dislike of the rich so commonly used by the Columbo writers….
Actually the character of Margaret should have been better developed-that’s where Irving went wrong… not her reactions/ those are understandable..I would have reacted the same way if someone harmed one of my parents… and she was coached and used by Columbo… in an irresponsible way….I would have loved to have her standing nearby the airport cafe when the police take away her glamorous and liked (but murderous) stepmom… that would have been cool.👍
Why her character elicits so much dislike.. and she is not a criminal, or a character that should cause so much dislike… to me it’s mind boggling…. but I guess I’m missing something…. one sees the same thing in the Columbo FB groups- …and seen worse in Tweeter … actually, a new one- the use of the adjective-odious, that’s the first time I see that one— and to compare her to Andrew Stevens…😮..oh my goodness… that’s ok-let’s agree to disagree….
Ed, I have no problem with the character just the on-screen presentation of that character. Here is what I think would have made it better….the director tells the actress…..ok, inside you’re a 10 on the rage and resentment scale….but to make it more powerful let’s manifest that as a 6 outwardly…….so, both the audience and the villain are not entirely sure where you are…in fact, if she tried to be less threatening at first, it may have served to bring out even more Lee Grant’s complete lack of human emotions..just a thought…..I think it could have been more layered…..and I think the episode would have benefitted
That would be Irving’s fault…. (the director)…. Believe me I have read so much criticism of the character that I am a Margaret defender by now …. and I have no problem saying it…. I like the character….. 👩🏻🦰👓👍
I don’t find her odious or repelling at all- maybe she threw some tantrums- “she did it, she did it!” but she is supposed to be playing a teenager- that’s what teenagers do…..right?
Maybe the character should have been better developed- but again that’s Irving’s fault, not Patricia’s…. This was just her second tv credit, after Room 222 3 months before- and to me, she did a fine job…. She was only 19….
Agree to disagree,best regards.
I have no knowledge of the actress and I only judge the episode on what is within the 4 walls of it – the real world doesn’t exist. If it did, not much TV could survive and probably no Columbo episodes. I suspect the director took this as a 2 week job and thought of it as a pilot that had less than 50-50 chance of getting picked up. I suspect he spent much of his time reworking the Columbo character from Prescription:Murder and had little time or patience for a young actress and just told her to hit the notes…..obviously he was not going for nuance. Thank goodness it was successful enough that it led to the series!
Agree to disagree….
And actors follow the director’s instructions- so I guess Richard Irving (the director of Ransom) didn’t know what he was doing…. and he was a seasoned director…. https://www.bing.com/search?q=richard+irving+director&qs=AS&pq=richard+irving+dire&sk=PRES1&sc=1-19&cvid=8E44E03CB59C45B182243C39B45AA1FD&FORM=QBRE&sp=1
I’m more than sure Patrick McGoohan knew what he was doing but that doesn’t stop Last Salute to the Commodore being considered by Columbo fans as complete abomination. Different strokes. You obviously liked the Ransom episode….I hated it. Such is life! 🙂
Planting evidence in Death Lends a Hand and Dagger of the Mind are pretty shady
In American law it is well established that a police investigator is allowed to lie to a suspect to trick a confession out of him/her. IMO the question is at what point would Columbo’s actions move from being merely trying to provoke a reaction from the suspect (permitted) to actually ‘planting evidence’ (not permitted). I don’t fully believe my argument, but I might claim the latter stage is only reached when the ‘evidence’ is collected and tagged and mentioned in an official report. (I’m speaking in theory, I know “Dagger” does not take place in America.)
That’s a pretty good point. I watch a lot of police interrogation videos and it’s fairly common for the detectives to say things like “we found your DNA at the scene” or “Your partner just gave you up, so was the crime your idea or his. He says it was you…” when no such thing had taken place.
In “It’s all in the game” he searches Lisa’s apartment and subtracts photos without a warranr ( at least he’s not said having obtained one)
Not to mention eating on the crime scene and failing to properly handling evidence without labeling and putting them in a plastic bag.
Eating at the crime scene is bad enough when you’re bringing in your own food, but sometimes he helped himself to food that didn’t belong to him.
Rude behavior, yes, but somehow I doubt the LAPD brass would care one lick about one of their boys cruising a buffet line.
A buffet line? Assuming it wasn’t connected to the crime, maybe not. But Columbo takes it a step further. In Double exposure, he helps himself to some rather expensive (and salty) caviar which as it turns out, is a major clue: the Caviar was used to ensure the victim would be thirsty, setting up an ambush at a drinking fountain.
In other words, Columbo ate evidence.
In Murder Under Glass, Columbo first meets the murderer in the restaurant where the murder took place, and Columbo is stuffing his face like he hadn’t had a meal in days. The victim? Poisoned. The method? Unknown. And yet Columbo is eating away when in all likelihood the fatal poison is somewhere in the very restaurant in which he is eating. He takes the chef’s word for it that the food is safe, but how would the chef know? It could easily be a slow acting poison for all anyone knows at that point. If someone dies in a restaurant from poisoning, wouldn’t you much rather have scientists test the food instead of believing some surly chef?
Whatever the case, Columbo is putting his own life at risk because he couldn’t wait an hour to fetch a burger somewhere else.
And worst of all, in Agenda for Murder, Columbo can’t resist eating some cheese that was RIGHT NEXT TO A DEAD BODY. A body that had been shot in the head mere feet from the cheese. As it turns out, some of the cheese has the tooth mark of the killer, and yet Columbo eats the “untouched” (in his mind) portion. Because screw the rules of evidence…I’m hungry!
Any defense attorney worth his or her salt would have the Cheese evidence tossed like a bag of used diapers because YOU CAN’T EAT EVIDENCE. As far as a jury would know, maybe there was a fingerprint on the eaten portion that would have exonerated the suspect, or at least provide reasonable doubt. But they’ll never know because evidence was not only mishandled, but destroyed. And that’s not to mention the blood spatter that almost certainly would have “misted” on the cheese.
OK, the cheese bit in Agenda was a bridge too far. That annoyed me, too.
Sometimes the Lieutenant does
get his just deserts though.
Like when he eats chili at a gathering in Swan
Song, only to be told halfway though it, it’s
made from squirrel meat.
Ooh, nice idea for an article! Regarding ‘Strange Bedfellows’, I don’t actually have a problem with the premise, and it’s hardly an unusual plot for a detective series. ‘Nobility’ or not, we all know that the police sometimes have to make deals with some very unsavoury characters – it’s the execution that’s at fault here. I can’t but wonder how the Lieutenant was going to explain the whole thing when it came to court – presumably by keeping up the fiction that he himself was held hostage and threatened? Lying under oath doesn’t seem like Columbo’s style. 🙁
I suspect there’s going to be a lot of argument over the ‘Bye Bye Sky High’ and ‘Etude in Black’ entries. Personally I’m prepared to grant some leeway due to the ‘different times’ factor, but even so, that conversation with Caroline is cringeworthy to watch. However, IMO there’s actually a worse example in another episode – ‘Death Lends a Hand’? – where Columbo approaches a witness’ pre-teen daughter in a playground and starts telling her how pretty she is. Good grief, surely even in the 70s that should have rung a few alarm bells.
The pretty girl example is in Identity Crisis. It nearly made this list, but the girl was at least in the company of her mother and sister, so I’m sure all could tell he was a lovable fellow. In Death Lends a Hand, he pushes the boy on the swing, and the mother seems rather unsure of him.
And boy does he push the boy on the swing ! Quite difficult to watch, whatever your views on health and safety.
Ah, OK. I must have been confusing the two scenes in my mind.
Great observations and writing, as always. As to stealing Carsini’s wine, I would note, in mitigation, that it was no longer a thing of much value, at least not to a wine lover like Carsini, because it had turned to “LIQUID FILTH” in the heat. Carsini himself ended up throwing the whole cellar-load of wine off a cliff, and only partly because their spoiled state was incriminating.
But at the very least, its an unwarranted search and seizure.
Ah, but it gave us that wonderful restaurant scene and “gotcha.”
So true, Vito Scotti was money as usual.
At least an exciting episode was not RUINED by the purloined bottle.
I’ll see myself out.
I suspect Carsini’s lawyer could have the bottle evidence thrown out simply because it was “fruit of a poisonous tree”, that is illegal search and seizure, and possibly entrapment. If that didn’t work, the defense could say “the incident at the restaurant made Carsini realize that if the cellar in the restaurant was hot enough to ruin wine, perhaps his wine was ruined too after the recent heat wave. Did he forget to turn the AC back on after he last took inventory?”
But of course this all ignores the glaring plot hole: a dead body in a hot room will be a disgusting, bloated, leaking mess in a few hours, let alone a few days. Forget the logistics of putting a wetsuit on such a corpse, the smell and stain on the floor would be unmistakable.
That aspect always bothered me too. Especially because he wasn’t dead. He died of dehydration or exposure, but I’m sure he’d eaten and consumed fluids that day, and was tied up and locked in a room with no bathroom. Not only would the body be in horrid shape, but no access to a bathroom for a day or two before he died…? Yuck.
While Carsini I like better than Abigail Mitchell, his dispatching of Ric is even worse than Edmund’s death. He had maybe three full days to suffer.
I really wish that they’d have made the blow Carsini struck the killing blow, or had him strike Ric again to “finish the job.” That’s one of the murders in the show that really bugs me. It’s an awful way to die, for sure.