Columbo episode review: Death Hits the Jackpot

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot opening titles

After a brace of lacklustre adventures, Columbo’s parting shot of 1991 came in the form of Death Hits the Jackpot: a story of a lottery win gone wrong, a cheating wife, a murderous uncle in fancy dress – and a juvenile chimpanzee (not a monkey).

If that all sounds a little too zany, here’s the good news: the guest killer was comedy ace and Oscar nominee Rip Torn – a man who could never be accused of not fully committing to whatever role he happened to land.

First airing on December 15, 1991, could Death Hits the Jackpot end the Columbo year on a high? Or, to put it another way, is it a winning lottery ticket of an episode, or a rubbishy $5 scratch card? Let’s tune in and find out…

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot cast montage

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Leon Lamarr: Rip Torn
Nancy Brower: Jamie Rose
Freddie Brower: Gary Kroeger
Martha Lamarr: Betsy Palmer
Sergeant Jack Stroller: Warren Berlinger
Judy: Marilyn Tokuda
Trish: Britt Lind
Meyer McGinty: Shane McCabe
Joey the chimp: As himself
Directed by: Vincent McEveety
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom
Score by: Steve Dorff

Episode overview: Death Hits the Jackpot

Luckless photographer Freddie Brower is wading through the final stages of a sticky divorce. His estranged wife, Nancy, has refused to sign divorce papers because she believes she’s being unfairly saddled with paying off half of Freddie’s pre-marriage debts.

Freddie drives round to confront her of an evening and idly watches the lottery results being called out as he waits for her to finish changing her clothing. As the fickle hand of fate would have it, Freddie has bought a lottery ticket and watches in increasing amazement as all six of his numbers come up. The hard-up snapper has scooped the $30m jackpot! His luck has finally changed. Or has it? Freddie and Nancy are still wed, so if Freddie cashes in the ticket, she’ll be in line to scoop half of it herself. As a result, Freddie plays it cool, agrees to her demands to change the divorce agreement, and screeches off into the night.

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot Leon Lamarr
Leon Lamarr: redefining conceptions of ‘craggy’ since 1991

A day or two later, Freddie heads off to seek help from his only living relative, uncle Leon Lamarr, a wealthy jeweller whom we find out moments before Freddie’s arrival has just gone bust after a presumed series of foolish investments gone wrong. Facing his own ruin, Lamarr is only too happy to agree to help his naive nephew out by cashing in the ticket himself and repaying it to Freddie at the earliest opportunity. Nancy need never know the truth, so can sign the divorce papers with a glad heart.

Despite having dire cashflow problems, Freddie celebrates by buying a crate of Champagne and settles down to watch the TV announcement of his uncle’s big lotto ‘win’. A gaggle of oddball neighbours drop round to help him swig the fizz, one of which is a tubby fella’s pet chimp, which, if there’s any truth to the Chekhov’s Gun theory, is certain to have a part to play in proceedings further down the line.

Time passes. Freddie is becoming increasingly desperate to get the cash and Lamarr seems to be stringing him out. However, he promises that the handover will take place within two weeks and plans a fancy dress Halloween Ball at his palatial mansion for the same day as his fiendish plans start to take shape.

All Hallow’s Eve duly arrives. Lamarr (resplendent in a King George III outfit) busies himself around the house as wife Martha gets ready. Once he’s alone, Leon jallops off to a nearby parked car and vrooms over to Freddie’s apartment. His luck holds as no one seems to spot him on the way, and the dozen or so nosy neighbours are conveniently conspicuous by their absence – all except CHEKHOV’S CHIMP, which Freddie is ape-sitting for in its owner’s absence.

Before handing over the loot (which he claims in his car below), Lamarr proposes a Champagne toast. As Freddie turns to fetch some glasses, his dear uncle delivers a stout blow to the back of his swede, knocking him out cold. Lamarr then sets up a scene to suggest an innocent dip in the tub gone awry. He undresses Freddie, smashes his watch to set a time phony time of death (yes, that old chestnut) and plops the unconscious lump into the water. It’s then that things take a shocking turn. Freddie awakes and fights for breath. Stunned, Lamarr forcibly holds him under until the struggle is done. Yes folks, to quote soul legend Curtis Mayfield: “Freddie’s Dead.” (click below for suitably atmospheric soundtrack)

As Lamarr tidies things up, who should appear at Freddie’s apartment but Nancy! She wanders up the stairs and let’s herself in finding her villainous uncle-in-law adjusting his King George suit. Rather than being alarmed and/or confused at his presence, Nancy slowly walks up to Lamarr and the two launch into a passionate clinch! The redheaded minx has been in on the plot all along…

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot
Well fancy seeing you here!

All that’s now left for Lamarr to do to establish his alibi is get home unnoticed (check), welcome his guests at 8pm sharp (check) and field a supposed phone call from Freddie (really Nancy, check) letting him know he’s running late for the party. With an ocean of rich and therefore trustworthy eye-witnesses able to place him at home, it’s as rock-solid an alibi as we ever see in Columbo.

Cut back to Freddie’s place, where Columbo is cooing at and cuddling a juvenile chimp, whose pathetic cries alerted hippy neighbour Trish to the tragedy playing out in the apartment block. Naturally enough, Columbo’s fellow officers immediately fall for the ‘slipped and hit his head before drowning’ trick laid down by Lamarr. Columbo, however, is noticing little discrepancies, such as why was Freddie’s bottle of skin conditioner open when it’s supposed to be used after a bath, not during?

During a snoop around the living area, Columbo also discovers a brochure for a flashy sports car with a $175,000 price tag and a note from a car dealer suggesting delivery of said car could take place in Paris, Berlin or Bern. Curious! A fellow cop, meanwhile, has discerned that Freddie made a call to the home of Leon Lamarr at 8.01pm – just three minutes before his death, according to the smashed watch. The duty-bound Lieutenant, therefore, heads to the party at Lamarr HQ to break the bad news.

What he encounters is a bunch of raaahing, drunken toffs who applaud his arrival due to the perceived cleverness of his fancy dress ‘costume’ – really just his standard raincoat and suit. Lamarr takes the news of his “poor, innocent, irresponsible, wonderful” nephew’s death badly, roaring with crocodile tears in a scene where no piece of the scenery is left unchewed.

It’s not until the following day that Columbo meets Nancy, who was informed of her late husband’s demise by the chimp-owning mutual friend. She’s largely unmoved by the development, as befits a woman who has been looking to escape from an unhappy marriage. Most of their chat revolves around expensive lingerie and Columbo’s impending wedding anniversary, and much more hay is made at the Lieutenant’s subsequent meeting with Lamarr at his jewellery store.

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot Nancy Brower
At least he doesn’t say ‘panties’ in this episode…

The lab boys have been able to prove that Freddie’s designer watch was really a counterfeit, worth perhaps only $100. This surprises Lamarr, who had gifted a $3000 real deal to his nephew for his previous birthday. The pair agree that Freddie must have sold the original to make ends meet, and been too ashamed to tell his uncle. This doesn’t solve Columbo’s real problem, though: why would Freddie wear the counterfeit watch in the bath when he knew it wasn’t waterproof? It’s the first suggestion that the crime itself wasn’t watertight (as usual, pun 1 trillion per cent intended).

The Lieutenant’s next encounter with Lamarr and Nancy comes at Freddie’s funeral, where his hippy pals send him off with a guitar-strummed lament before uncle Leon wrings out a heartfelt tribute. Columbo, as is his wont, disrespects the grieving process by asking questions of the guests as Lamarr speaks – earning a rebuke from a cliche-licious Italian grandma in the process. Although prevented from grilling Lamarr by the officious priest, Columbo does get some intel from Freddie’s pals: namely that there was no chance he’d be in the market for a $175,000 car when he couldn’t even afford to pay his rent.

The detective goes in search of further answers on the car conundrum at the dealership where he has it confirmed that Freddie had placed his order for the pricey sportscar. He then returns to the crime scene where those wacky neighbours are staging a gentle wake. Nosing around, he finds a crate of expensive Champers under Freddie’s kitchen table and also pockets some photos of that rascally chimp for later examination. He hits a proverbial jackpot of his own when asked to take a photo of the gang on Freddie’s camera. While examining the lens, Lamarr’s winning lotto numbers 4-5-6-8-11-16 leap out at him. Why, it’s almost as if Freddie had won the lottery himself!

Confronting Lamarr with the new intel from the case, Columbo wonders why Freddie needed to call his uncle so often in the last month of his life. Because ne needed money, Lamarr sanguinely replies. Gee that’s strange, retorts Columbo, because around that time he ordered a $175,000 car. How can that be explained? According to Lamarr, it’s because Freddie lived in cloud cuckoo land and it wasn’t unusual for him to enact crazy fantasies, such as hiring a Rolls Royce and going to look at expensive houses.

That’s all well and good, but Columbo remains puzzled about how a broke Freddie could be begging for money and still spending $520 on a case of Champagne. That ain’t a fantasy – it really happened. This rattles Lamarr and Columbo delivers another sucker punch when he reveals that there was no Halloween costume at Freddie’s house – strange when he was due to the party at Lamarr HQ.

While there’s nothing particularly damning in Columbo’s observations, they are enough to trouble the wicked uncle, who tells Nancy they’ll have to cool things off while the detective remains on the case. She’s less than pleased and her greedy little mind starts worrying about when she’ll be able to get her oily clutches on her half of Freddie’s winnings.

Columbo Nancy Brower
Gratuitous redhead in a bath scene alert!

The depth of Nancy’s treachery is revealed in the next scene, where Columbo has been lying in wait for her to return home. His investigations have revealed that Freddie had removed the communal debt clause from their divorce decree at Nancy’s behest, and mailed her a fresh copy almost a month ago. Why hadn’t she signed it? We know it was to ensure Freddie remained reliant of Lamarr to handle the lotto cash, but she can’t tell that to the good Lieutenant. Instead she spins a sob story about the emotion of finally closing that chapter of her life had got the better of her. Sounds plausible!

With the co-conspirators increasingly at loggerheads, Columbo steps up his pursuit. He shows Lamarr Freddie’s camera, which features the lotto numbers. Lamarr plays a straight bat, suggesting that his own familiarity with cameras (he taught his nephew everything he knew) means the lucky numbers were second nature to him. The Lieutenant then rocks Nancy’s confidence by telling her he knows her ex-husband was murdered. He just doesn’t know why.

That is all cleared up the following day. Disturbing Lamarr at a jewellery auction, Columbo breaks the news of the suspected murder. Lamarr becomes agitated – especially when Columbo asks him to account for his whereabouts earlier in the evening of Freddie’s death. He claims to have been home all day and night, but Columbo can prove otherwise.

He busts out the photos of the chimp he took from Freddie’s. They crucially show that the adorable young ape had a fascination with shiny objects. He then reveals a fingerprint that can place Lamarr at the scene of the crime on the night of the murder. Lamarr scoffs at this. Afterall, he’s been to Freddie’s loads of times. How can his prints prove he was there on that specific day? Easy. That’s not Lamarr’s fingerprint – it’s the chimp’s. And it was taken off the shiny medallion Lamarr wore as part of his King George Halloween costume. They already knew the chimp was in Freddie’s apartment on the night of the murder. Now they can definitely prove Lamarr was there, too.

Columbo Rip Torn
At least Leon could see the funny side of life behind bars

There’s a further surprise in store when Nancy is ushered in. Columbo has summoned her to tell her the bad news that Freddie was murdered by his dear uncle. Freddie also bought the winning lotto ticket, so Nancy is entitled to all of that loot. Lamarr won’t let that happen, though. He vengefully lets the police know that Nancy was in on it up to her ears, and she promptly goes berserk and attempts to scratch his eyes out. The two crims are bundled away, she screaming, he laughing, leaving Columbo and Sergeant Stroller to idle chit-chat as credits roll…

My memories of Death Hits the Jackpot

For no particular reason, Death Hits the Jackpot is one of the few Columbo episodes I’ve hardly ever watched and probably haven’t seen for the best part of 10 years. This normally means I have previously considered it swill, but I actually have no such strong feelings or memories of it. However, were it not for fellow fans online telling me how much fun it is, and how good Rip Torn is in it, I’d have approached viewing this with some trepidation.

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot Rip Torn
My two main recollections of the episode conveniently summed up in one photo

My chief recollections of it are that the chimp was involved in solving the crime, and that Torn wore a ludicrous costume in which to commit murder. The death of Freddie also stood out as a sad and brutal one by series’ standards. Pretty much everything else – including Nancy, the silly neighbours and the auction house finale – has escaped me, so I went into it with an open mind and hoping against hope that 90s Columbo could dish up a rare winner…

Episode analysis

The first five minutes of Death Hits the Jackpot are so hammily acted out by Jamie Rose (Nancy) and Gary Kroeger (Freddie) that one could be forgiven for thinking it was actually a day-time soap rather than a quality detective drama. Thank goodness, then, that Rip Torn emerges from this opening morass to give us one of the most memorable, entertaining and diabolical antagonists of Columbo’s comeback era.

With his hypnotic southern drawl and craggy expressiveness, Torn’s Leon Lamarr is the most fun we’ve had with a killer since the impish Joe Devlin limericked and boozed his way into our hearts in 1978’s The Conspirators. A better comparison, however, would be Jack Cassidy as Riley Greenleaf in Publish or Perish. Both he and Torn were having an absolute scream filming their respective episodes and the joie de vivre is contagious. Torn feels especially energising after far too many lacklustre guest star killers since the Lieutenant shambled back onto screens two and half years earlier.

Jeffrey Bloom penned this story with Torn specifically in mind, and the bombastic performance he provides is a real tonic. It’s just as well, too, because it’s an unusually long opening act of the episode with Columbo not even showing up until the 33rd minute – his latest appearance in the 35-year history of the show. Had we been left in the hands of a less watchable villain (Frank Brailie, anyone?), this could have seemed like an eternity. As it is, the allure of Leon Lamarr easily keeps the viewer fixated on the action, despite a fair share of plot contrivances.

Columbo Leon Lamarr
Torn puts in a tour de force performance – with or without his wig

Working alongside a pro like Torn also seems to have had a beneficial impact on Peter Falk’s efforts. A comic actor by nature, Torn’s madcap antics took a lot of the burden off Falk, allowing him to put in a much more controlled and believable turn as a seen-it-all-before homicide cop. Although not entirely absent, the overblown schtick that has become synonymous with the Columbo characterisation since 1989 is dialled right down. The Lieutenant we encounter in Death Hits the Jackpot is playing it just like he did in the 70s – and it’s such a relief.

There’s more steel and a lot more substance to Columbo here than we’ve seen in most of the revival episodes. His focus on the case never waivers, and he puts in a lot of quality policework off camera to strengthen his hunches – notably with regard to the divorce papers. His ability to see the cracks in the crime without overplaying his hand, meanwhile, hark back to the good old days. and his straight-faced reactions to the histrionics and sob stories told by Lamarr and Nancy evoke memories of how he saw through the likes of Paul Galesko, Ken Franklin and Adrian Carsini years before.

The sham grief on display here would never fool a cop with Columbo’s arrest record and, to his credit, Falk’s performance makes it abundantly clear that he’s fully on top of things throughout. We even get to see the Lieutenant pulling rank on a disdainful luxury car salesman in one of the series’ best ever f*** you moments. It raises the question: why didn’t Falk play it this way all the time in the ‘new’ episodes? The series would have been so much stronger if he had.

While we here, can we also talk about Falk embracing the grey in this episode? He’s had some extremely dodgy dye jobs over the last dozen or so episodes, but Death Hits the Jackpot marks the first time that Columbo’s silvering locks are unleashed. The man is a genuine silver fox! Why Falk and/or the production team felt the need to cover this up until now eludes me. All I can say is that Mrs Columbo is a lucky woman! After all, did you notice how hippy Trish was making eyes at him when he was cuddling the chimp in Freddie’s apartment? She’d have snaffled him up in a heartbeat!

On the downside, there are several moments of silliness from Columbo that would have better been avoided. His cooing at the juvenile chimp, his gushiness when realising Lamarr was the lotto winner he’d seen on TV, and his unwitting bids on priceless jewellery at the auction are right out of the 80s/90s Columbo playbook. Worst of all, however, is his ham-fisted, theatrical look of amazement (accompanied by a twee tinkling of This Old Man) when noticing the winning lottery numbers on Freddie’s camera lens.

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot
Just in case you’re an actual simpleton, this pose means Columbo has had a light bulb moment!

This is so clearly screaming that SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAS HAPPENED one must assume the production team took viewers for idiots. There’s even some needless audio ‘comedy’ added in post-production with Columbo’s car noisily backfiring at Lamarr’s upper-class shindig and again at the expensive car dealership. We get it, it’s a clapped-out jallopy! We’ve known this since 1971. Audio cues aren’t required!

Falk’s occasional horseplay, however, is overshadowed by the cartoon outlandishness of Freddie’s weirdo neighbours. Hippies, whores, Italian clichés and an artistic type with a pet chimp, they belong in a bad sitcom. ‘New Columbo’ has habitually done a poor job with its secondary characters, who are all too often mere ‘comedy’ stereotypes with zero substance. Freddie and Nancy are similarly two-dimensional: a paint-by-numbers wimpy alcoholic and a shallow, adulterous money grabber. I hate to always harp on about the qualities of the 70s’ series, but one aspect it inevitably nailed was the strength-in-depth of the casting – right down to the bit-part players. That’s nowhere near being replicated here.

Fortunately, though, troublesome as they are, these aspects don’t overshadow the episode like some of the ghastlier aspects of earlier outings (don’t make me mention the tuba and bin-rummaging scenes from Sex and the Married Detective again, please!). In fact, I’d go so far as to say the good comfortably outweighs the bad when taking Death Hits the Jackpot as a whole.

“Falk’s occasional horseplay is overshadowed by the cartoon outlandishness of Freddie’s weirdo neighbours.”

Freddie’s need for an ally to help him hide his new-found wealth from his grasping soon-to-be ex is plausibly handled. Sure, he’s a bit naive and innocent in his presumption that old Lamarr won’t turn against him, but we mustn’t forget that dear old Uncle Leon is Freddie’s only living relative, who has always treated him well. Freddie has no reason to think Lamarr won’t continue to act in his best interests, as he has no idea that his uncle and wife have been romping behind his back, nor does he know that on the very day he seeks his assistance, Lamarr has found out that he’s flat broke.

The latter issue is admittedly far too convenient and too quickly glossed over in the script for its own good, but Freddie turning to his uncle for help still rings true as wife Nancy continues to hold out for the best possible financial outcome in the divorce settlement. Some folk are of the opinion that Freddie should just be content splitting the money with Nancy ($12m went a long way in 1991, after all), but I tend to disagree. Keeping hold of all the cash that she’s legally entitled to as his wife would represent a revenge too sweet for the put-upon photographer to pass up.

The killing of Freddie is another episode highlight in that it shows what an absolute git Uncle Leon really is. It’s one thing to knock a man out, then leave him in a tub to drown. It’s quite another to forcefully hold him underwater as he fights for life. By Columbo standards, it’s a grisly and frightening murder, while the absurdity of the costume worn by Lamarr as he carries it out adds a grotesque edge to an already unsettling crime. A lesser star than Torn mightn’t have carried it off.

Death Hits the Jackpot Rip Torn
I’m not sure even Jack Cassidy or Donald Pleasence could’ve pulled this scene off!

There’s a nice post-murder twist of sorts, too, when Nancy arrives at Freddie’s apartment as Lamarr is tidying himself up. First-time viewers might very easily assume she’s about to startle him and perhaps become the second victim. Instead we find out that she’s his accomplice and lover. It’s not exactly earth-shattering (and indeed is reminiscent of Dale Kingston’s accomplice Tracey ringing the doorbell as he wrecks the joint in Suitable for Framing), but is enough to keep us on our toes.

The fact there isn’t a second homicide is also a bit of a surprise. I was expecting Lamarr to either bump off his ageing wife Martha (I mean, who wants to be married to Jason Vorhees’ mother?) or Nancy herself – especially as the lovers’ relationship sours in the second half of the episode. Instead, it’s Columbo’s trickery that fully drives them apart as he plays the two off each other to fill in the gaps in his investigation – and ensnare them both – during the enjoyable finale.

The gotcha itself is a good one by recent standards, although not in the same league as the blockbusters of yesteryear. The chimp’s fingerprints on the fancy dress medallion do a good enough job to definitively place Lamarr at the crime scene and make it feel like it’s evidence that will really stick. However, the mere presence of the chimp during the killing made it a certainty to any canny viewer that it would have a role to play in Columbo cracking the case, severely eroding the wow factor.

The revelation that the chimp’s fingerprint, and not Lamarr’s, is the crucial evidence to place him at the scene also loses marks for being a major riff on Suitable for Framing. It doesn’t have anywhere near the dramatic impact of the gloved-hand reveal, and the exchange between Columbo and Lamarr about whose fingerprints are sealing the killer’s fate is almost a straight lift from the 1971 classic (chimp references excluded). Nevertheless, Falk’s pleasingly stern demeanour and Torn’s increasing agitation make the scene a winner.

Accomplice Nancy’s tantrum as she’s drawn in to share Lamarr’s fate is very stagey by comparison, though. There’s nothing as bad as Brenda Vaccaro’s pop-eyed hissy fits in Murder in Malibu, but it’s pretty ropey stuff from Jamie Rose. The actress does have her moments, though, particularly during the funeral scenes when she blows kisses at Lamarr and seductively runs her tongue over her teeth while making eye contact with him. It is moments like this that we can see why he’d risk it all for the redheaded temptress.

Columbo Jamie Rose
This scene is just a little bit hot (beret-wearing berk notwithstanding)

There are other familiar beats in the episode that will resonate with long-term fans, not least the alibi-creating phony phone call and the smashed-watch-to-establish-time-of-death stunt (which I feel like I’ve now seen a million times in the series). True to form from a cop who’s seen this exact trick tried before, Columbo is able to make a telling deduction about the watch that will help firm up his hunch that Freddie’s death was not an accident. What I like about Death Hits the Jackpot is that Lamarr never gives Columbo any help by suggesting crazy explanations to the questions put to him.

Of the broken counterfeit watch conundrum, Lamarr sensibly suggests that Freddie may have been about to remove it when he slipped and fell – exactly the sort of answer a sane individual would give. He later downplays the importance of the Freddie’s lack of Halloween costume and the numbers on the camera lens by saying that he himself is an avid photographer who gifted the camera to Freddie and taught him how to use it. Indeed, he has a good answer for everything Columbo throws at him, offering up little reason to further excite the detective’s suspicions.

“Rip Torn’s dynamism goes a long way toward papering over the episode’s cracks.”

The one thing that Columbo never adequately tests is Lamarr’s claim that he bellowed with glee and informed his son upon learning his lotto numbers had come up. This is pure fiction, something Lamarr made up on the spot. It has the feeling of a classic Columbo moment when he bursts the killer’s bubble by saying something like: “Gee, isn’t that strange? Your son never mentioned that when I spoke to him, and he told me you never played the lottery before.”

We’ve seen Columbo drop little bombshells like this time and again over the years to rattle the poise of his suspects (Ken Franklin’s open mail, anyone?), and it’s always a delight. Here, we never meet Lamarr Jr, and he’s never mentioned again, making the inclusion of this information a somewhat bizarre blind alley when it really should have been the moment Lamarr realises how much trouble he could be in.

Such a scene could also have been pivotal in the Lieutenant’s deductive leap that Lamarr killed Freddie for the money. After all, he never proves this before the gotcha scene, and doesn’t appear to know that Lamarr had gone broke and needed the cash to protect his way of life. Columbo has enough reasons to suspect foul play, but tighter writing could have hammered home his belief that Lamarr had adequate motive to kill his nephew.

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot
It’s hard to take a man in a periwig seriously, ain’t it Lieutenant?

To wrap things up, Death Hits the Jackpot isn’t perfect by any means, but it is a huge return to form after the slipshod Murder of a Rock Star. It’s nearly a very good Columbo by the standards of any era, so by ‘new Columbo’ standards it’s a revelation. Heck, even the 98-minute running time rarely feels bogged down in the endless filler that has blighted the series since 1989.

It just goes to show what good casting can do. Rip Torn’s dynamism goes a long way toward papering over the episode’s cracks, and with Peter Falk dishing up one of his best performances in years, this is a terrifically entertaining slice of TV. Ordinarily I’d say that such a fun episode would augur well for the future of the series, but then I remember that our next instalment is the almost-universally panned No Time to Die. Just as Freddie Brower might have thought when contemplating his lost fortune in his final, desperate moments of life, you can’t win ’em all…

Did you know?

Death Hits the Jackpot is the Columbo episode which takes place over the longest period of time. Most of his cases are wrapped up in days, but here a month or more passes between Freddie winning the jackpot to the case being wrapped up.

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot
Solving murders is child’s play to Columbo – choosing anniversary gifts less so

We also learn that the Lieutenant is on the cusp of celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary. If true, he tied the knot with Mrs Columbo just before Christmas in 1966 – a little over a year before we meet him in Prescription: Murder.

How I rate ’em

A massively entertaining romp, with a joyfully wicked performance by Rip Torn, Death Hits the Jackpot is leagues ahead of most of its Columbo contemporaries. It’s perhaps not as coherent across the board as Agenda for Murder, which I place nominally ahead of it, but runs it very close. A fine effort and one of the very few episodes of its era that I would now consider essential viewing.

If you missed any of my earlier ‘new Columbo’ reviews, access them via the links below.

  1. Columbo Goes to College
  2. Agenda for Murder
  3. Death Hits the Jackpot
  4. Columbo Cries Wolf
  5. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
  6. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
  7. Sex & The Married Detective
  8. Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
  9. Murder, A Self Portrait
  10. Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
  11. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  12. Uneasy Lies the Crown
  13. Grand Deceptions
  14. Murder in Malibu

I haven’t yet started to slot the new episodes in amongst the classics in an overall rankings list, but you can see how I rate the 70s’ run of episodes right here.

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot
A new Columbo this good is well worth celebrating!

Here’s where I turn the virtual floor over to you, dear readers. As always, share your own opinions on this enjoyable adventure. Could it have worked without as charismatic a lead as Rip Torn? Does the chimp clue satisfy? And how do you rate Jackpot against the entire Columbo back catalogue?

I’m just off to try out Freddie’s lucky numbers in this weekend’s lottery. If you don’t see me again, I’ve either won the jackpot and immediately uprooted to the Maldives; or I’ve won the jackpot and been slain by my favourite uncle and wife. If I don’t win, I’ll be back here in due course to supply a presumably stinging critique of many a fans’ least favourite Columbo outing – the dreaded No Time to Die.

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Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot chimp
Stop that flirting, Trish! He’s a happily married man!