An oft-overlooked and faintly praised episode, A Case of Immunity, from Columbo’s fifth season, nevertheless stands out as a unique entry into the series.
Dealing with Middle Eastern political intrigue, and facing Columbo off against an untouchable and highly dangerous adversary in Suari First Secretary Hassan Salah, the episode more than proved that its writers were still well able to come up with original subject matter for the scruffy Lieutenant.
Featuring a terrific turn by Peter Falk, an ice-cold and menacing performance from Hector Elizondo and one of Sal Mineo’s final screen performances before his tragic real-life murder, A Case of Immunity has much to recommend it. What are its most memorable moments? Let’s have a look…
5. Big Jeff’s golden cameo
It may be insignificant with regard to the plot, but there can’t be a Columbo fan alive who doesn’t get a buzz of giddy glee from knowing world’s most popular actor Jeff Goldblum briefly pops up in A Case of Immunity.
In the uncredited role of a Suarian student protestor at the legation gates, Jeff’s easy to miss (despite some impressive mutton chops), and can only really be spotted in one scene approximately 56 minutes in where he’s in the throng of demonstrators being jostled by police officers. Few would consider it his most iconic screen outing, but I for one find it massively reassuring to know that gorgeous Jeff really was in an episode of the greatest detective show of all. Without this, who knows where he’d be today?
4. Having a bad day, Lieutenant?
Regular readers will know that I do love those rare flashes when Columbo shows the world what he really feels about a given situation, and A Case of Immunity gives us an intriguing insight into his frame of mind after he’s mistakenly attached to the police taskforce to provide security for the King of Suria’s impending visit.
Despite displaying his usual cordiality during the police briefing with Hassan Salah, Columbo unleashes the inner beast in the corridor outside where he’s visibly fuming about his new assignment – his rage seemingly exacerbated by what seems to be the failure of the cigarette machine to dispense his chosen items.
Granted, it may not be in the same league as his slamming a pitcher down on Dr Mayfield’s desk or his raging at Milo Janus in the hospital waiting room, but such palpable frustration shows a rare glimpse into Columbo’s true personality when the chips are down. Luckily for the vending machine, his rage was immediately cooled by learning of murder most foul at the Suari legation. With the game afoot, he’s instantly transformed back into the cool and calculating murder-solving machine.
3. Raising with a King in the final hand
Columbo (in cahoots with the King of Suaria) takes a giant gamble to prove Salah’s guilt by arranging a bait-and-switch in which the pocket-sized Royal is shown to be heading for home on his private jet. Watching him depart, Salah heads for the legation believing he’s fully in the clear for double homicide – even being so gracious as to accept an audience with Columbo, who is awaiting the First Secretary at the legation gates.
Columbo congratulates his opponent on getting the better of him, and a smug Salah is only too happy to admit his guilt under the protective umbrella of diplomatic immunity. However, as he leans back to smugly sip his tea Salah is stunned as the King and his guards emerge from another room after hearing every word. He hadn’t flown away at all. Instead, he’d hoodwinked Hassan by choppering back to the legation at the suggestion of the good Lieutenant so he could hear for himself the level of his First Secretary’s treachery.
Promised swift justice under Suarian law (presumably death), Salah denounces his diplomatic immunity, turns himself into Columbo and agrees to sign a confession, which has conveniently already been prepared by the ace detective. Despite this gotcha harking back to classics such as Prescription: Murder and A Stitch in Crime, it’s still a satisfying end to an adventure in which Columbo has been absolutely up against it every step of the way.
2. Kicking Kermit to the kerb?
Columbo builds an extremely strong case against Salah – up to the point where it’s perfectly obvious the man is guilty. Little wonder, then, that the Lieutenant doesn’t take too kindly to State Department ‘ace’ KERMIT MORGAN telling him to drop his investigations.
When Columbo states “that’s all very well and good, except for one thing. He’s the murderer,” Kermit zaps back with: “It may go against your grain, but we don’t care if Salah is guilty or innocent.” That’s pretty cold, but I suspect not far off what actually happens behind closed doors in diplomatic circles. All in all, it’s a nicely confrontational moment that again shows us Columbo’s true colours, and offers a fascinating insight into the high-level obstacles preventing an honest officer from getting the job done.
1. The garden party showdown
After being ordered to drop his investigation by our mate Kermit, Columbo is given a lifeline after being told to write a letter of apology to Salah. He not only agrees to do so but says he’ll deliver the letter personally to show how truly sorry he is. Naturally the wily Lieutenant uses this as an opportunity to further harass his suspect, showing up to an invite-only garden party at the legation resplendent in his tuxedo and raincoat.
After a pleasant exchange with the King, Columbo has a private chat with Salah in which he accuses the First Secretary of murder. Salah hits back by having the detective forcibly ejected but not before Columbo has the last laugh. Breaking free of his armed escort, Columbo delivers the ‘apology’ letter to Salah in what is a clear taunt and shows the level of disdain he really holds the killer in. It’s sizzling stuff as both men trade metaphorical blows to establish their superiority.
“Salah hits back by having the detective forcibly ejected but not before Columbo has the last laugh.”
Do share your own thoughts on the highlights of this somewhat underrated episode – but please NOT the ‘comedy’ rrrrRRRRRIPs of Salah’s gown when the Lieutenant bungles onto its hem. We can do better! If you’ve forgotten all that goes on the episode, you can read my full review of A Case of Immunity here. You can also find out why Hassan Salah is one of 10 Columbo criminals I reckon will never do time behind bars right here.
Until next time, salaam effendi /hanımefendi. Be good, and don’t do anything that could see you fall foul of Suarian justice. It’s gonna hurt real bad if you do…
I’m in the UK. After the BBC began to air Columbo finally allowing us to tape unedited episodes after years of ITV cuts just to fit the time slot it was great to try and gather up every episode. Not long after the BBC began the repeats the original Columbo Phile book appeared which was perfect timing. For some reason ITV retained the rights to 5 of the longer episodes while the BBC seemed to have purchased all the 72 minute ones. And of all of those A Case of Immunity was the only one they never aired. I never saw it confirmed but my guess at the time was that the BBC skipped it because the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher was still appearing in the news since it happened in 1984 outside a foreign embassy. Despite attempts to nail the killer it was reported at the time that they had used diplomatic immunity to escape justice so the subject matter was still a bit hot for the BBC.
It had been aired by ITV in the 70’s and it returned to TV years later but at the time it was glaring gap in the collection. As if by magic the magazine Satellite Times began listing episode titles for Columbo repeats being aired on Dutch tv and there was A Case for Immunity on a sunday afternoon so the pirate decoder for RTL4 finally came in handy. The very large onscreen Dutch subtitles did detract a bit but as it was literally the only way to see the episode I put up with it for a few years.
This isn’t exactly a “moment”, but I like Columbo’s friendship with the nice young woman who works at the embassy. I’ve written elsewhere about his encounters with “nice ladies” and “pretty girls”, but here it’s both, with the smartly turned out young woman providing an amusing contrast to the scruffy lieutenant, but also being very sincere in helping him out in an unfamiliar situation, and also to catch the murderer of her friend, the security chief.
Hi did put a couple of quid on santini and it ran a cracking race fininshing third in yesterdays grand national
Hetes sundays line up on 5 USA
Ashes to ashes
Any old pprt in a storm
5pm Agenda for Murder ( Top pick )
Columbo cries wolf
Something of a mixed bag Agenda for murder easily my favourite an must watch
cries wolf i dont mind watching forgoten lady any old port also classics
Last salute and ashes to ashes easily the most avoidable for me
Yes i watched this today on 5Usa and thats a nice aspect when columbo interacts with the female clerk it iprovides the central clue about the cold cup of coffee and the internal telephone i prefer this than a matter of honor where in contrast montoyas daughter turns up and is very attractive
But columbo has almost no interaction with her and dosent have any real role to play
Thanks Stephen. I take your point about Montoya’s daughter, who is certainly a very pretty girl, and she is similar to the young lady in this episode, in that they are both mourning the victim.
I think the crucial difference is that Miss Montoya was not around when the murder was committed, and Columbo has no official police powers in Mexico, so he has no good reason to interact with her. Talking with the local police chief about her is pretty much all he can do.
It’s wonderful to see your return, Columbphile. While falling short of anything garnering Top 5 status, I always enjoyed the exchanges between Elizondo and Mineo. “Women and children try…” should be the title of a 1970’s heavy metal album.
Hi Tim. I think that what Salah actually says is; “Try? A child tries. A man accomplishes”.
A funny aside is when Columbo steps on Salah’s robe a couple of times.
The garden showdown is easily my favorite scene also its classic columbo material theres also columbo eating snails without realising in the kitchen but i keep thinking had the motive been explored/explainded a bit more and more genuine humor it might have been a stronger episode i also think its a better episode than murder under glass
Have to say I’ve never liked the gotcha in this one. Essentially, Columbo is threatening Salah with torture unless he confesses and renounces his immunity. It’s the sort of low blow you’d expect from the Closer. I think the lieutenant might be feeling ashamed of himself, though, given the way the barely acknowledges the king’s final thumbs-up.
The gotcha is not great and its pretty much a rehash of presciption murders ending which was executed much better after doctor flemming was fooled blind when joan hudson appeared from an adjoining room my asumption is that hassan would face execution in his own country and would have a much lighter scentence in the us given his diplomatic status . A case of immunity is way off one of my favorites and as cp often states columbo dosent deal with foreign politics too well as a show although i much prefer this episode to the conspirators
Except that Salah already had confessed beforehand, albeit at a time he thought he could do so with impunity. Contrast this with how Columbo used a threat of murder to obtain the initial confession in “Strange Bedfellows.”
I like this episode but it makes me sad because of Sal Mineo. As with Barbara Colby, it breakes my heart seeing them as victims knowing that they would be tragically murdered in real life. May they always rest in peace!
Columbo and vincento fortelli squeeze grame into a confession same as columbo and the king in a case of inmunity , but it turns into a load of tosh in strange bedfellows unlike A case of immunitty wich ending/gotcha has far more finnese and quality and is excecuted a whole lot better without being among the finest gotchas lets see if CP agrees
There’s a huge difference between Fortelli and the King. Fortelli threatened to murder McVeigh unless he confessed to killing Bruno. All the King proposed was to send Salah home to face trial in Suaria, under Suarian law, for his admitted murder of Youseff Alafa. Unlike what Fortelli threatened, what the King demanded (until he acceded to Columbo’s request) wasn’t illegal. There’s nothing illegal about applying Suarian law to the murder of one Suarian by another Suarian.
Rich, well said. But I gotta say that I wouldn’t have minded seeing Salah being arrested by the king’s security and dragged off to his doom. I know, it sounds kinda ruthless but Salah certainly deserved it!
My guess is that the young, progressive king is intending to do away with his country’s more severe punishments. But Salah doesn’t know that.
Still, I wanted to see Salah screaming in terror as he’s about to be decapitated. Pure bloodthirsty karma!
I’ve always admired Elizondo as a cold-blooded murderer.
I thought he was almost as good in this Columbo episode as he was the year before as Mr. Grey in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and that’s going some. Héctor Elizondo beautifully played the most frightening member of the team hijacking the train and demanding a ransom for the passengers.
With hindsight of 47 years, it’s easy to call out casting and casual stereotyping in “A Case of Immunity”. I’m no expert on Middle Eastern culture, so I can’t tell you whether the fictional Suari names, attire, embassy artifacts, or spray-painted graffiti are remotely credible, but when the Arab-American Discrimination Committee objected to this episode, it wasn’t because of any cultural or character offense. Rather, it was because of (per Mark Dawidziak) “simplistic treatment of complex and sensitive issues in Arab nations”. Well, it’s a TV cop show, not a PBS geopolitical roundtable discussion! Absent truly offensive stereotypes, it’s hard to knock the attempt to freshen up the “Columbo” killer’s environment here.
[The Wikipedia page summarizing this episode says that Falk “disavowed” it because of controversy. That statement comes with no sourcing and I found zero evidence to back it up.]
As Salah, Hector Elizondo is IMHO at least plausibly cast as a 1975 Middle Eastern villain. If this were “Columbo 2022, starring Mark Ruffalo”, there would no doubt be a good-faith and welcome attempt at more accurate ethnic casting. Ripping on “Columbo” for adhering to the casting practices of seventies television production seems like a waste of energy at this late date. And mere appearances can be deceiving. In the original “Hawaii 5-0”, Khigh Dhiegh played McGarrett’s Chinese arch enemy Wo Fat, and was often the go-to Asian villain of many a 60s-70s show. But Dhiegh was of American-Egyptian Sudanese descent. He had more Middle East blood than Elizondo – would he have been a better-cast Suari heavy?
Dawidziak himself offers up strong objections to the episode’s politics, contrasting Salah’s hard-line Arabic traditions with the West-friendly boy king. “There’s a painfully offensive message that emerges…..Arabs aren’t such bad guys if they’re willing to act more American.” That’s an understandable objection, but Dawidziak wrote that in 1988, well before the events of 9/11 spotlighted the unfortunate reality of some (not all) anti-West Arab sentiments. Dawidziak may have been a bit simplistic himself, considering the U.S. government’s historically morally questionable alliances with brutal foreign dictators who espoused Western views – or had plenty of oil to export to us. Is a king who simply doesn’t wear traditional robes and likes Western foods really such an objectionable ally?
The contrast between Western and traditional Arabic values makes for a delicious irony at the close, when Salah realizes that if he goes back to Suari, he’ll be executed. “Barbarism!” he shouts, as the hard-liner opts for a confession and Western-style mercy instead of old-school Arabic justice.
Would 100% “accurate ethnic casting” have permitted casting Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo? Be careful what you wish for.
Mark Ruffalo’s father is Italian, so for anyone looking for ethnic accuracy in the fantasy “Columbo” reboot, you can now exhale a huge sigh of relief.
But if we’re talking prequel — and we should be — then Donald Glover is the answer!
For me, this is perhaps the most laughable episode of the original series. (I can’t laugh at “Last Salute to the Commander” because it puts me through too much pain.) The white actors playing Arabs are doing a minstrel show. It’s not better than blackface. It’s hilariously awful casting. And I don’t find Elizondo menacing at all. I see him as a broad comedy actor (think: Pretty Woman) hopelessly out of his depth.
Wow, couldn’t disagree more. I think the episode is pretty grim at times, even. I for one find the acting very believable. And blackface is something entirely different.
I react to this episode the same way I react to blackface. That’s my honest reaction. So by definition my reaction is not different. You don’t have this visceral revulsion. So for you, your reaction is different.
Good points, dear David. Elizondo gives a wonderful performance in a solidly entertaining episode, at least in my book.
Ben Gazzara was Peter Falk’s first pick to play Hassan Salah. If “white actors” are your objection, Hector Elizondo was a better choice.
HUH???? Elizondo is of Basque and Puerto Rican descent and was born in NYC. Gazzara is of Italian descent and also was born in NYC. Neither one is an Arab. Neither one looks like an Arab. Again, HUH????
Not Arab, but not “white” either. That was your original assertion.
Oy. NOT EVERY PUERTO RICAN IS LATINO. Jeez, Rita Moreno is Puerto Rican and she’s white. She had to wear brownface for the first “West Side Story” movie because of this kind of thinking.
And I quote Hector Elizondo himself:
“I hate to be called a Latin actor. I can’t stand that.”
Finally, I’ll say it one more time for those who don’t get it: I’m talking about MY REACTION to the casting of ALL the “Arabs,” not just Elizondo. I had to laugh to keep from crying. This could have been a good episode with more convincing casting.
Whereas Falk is a Jewish actor who very convincingly plays an Italian-American detective, so much so that they released several episodes of “Columbo” on the big screen in Italy because of fan demand!
I doubt anyone in the Mideast wanted to see the Elizondo episode in a movie theater — or even on their TV!
This episode was filmed at the incredible Greenacres estate and mansion, built by silent film comedian superstar Harold Lloyd. You can see Harold’s library, kitchen, and gardens, as explained in this post, which also shows Columbo’s connections to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – https://silentlocations.com/2016/05/16/columbo-and-the-silent-clowns-chaplin-keaton-and-lloyd/
By my count, there are three episodes where Columbo winds up as the murderer’s potential alibi witness. Twice — in “A Deadly State of Mind” and “Columbo Goes to College” — that’s because the murderer kills through some form of remote control while with Columbo. I believe “A Case of Immunity” is the only one where the murderer jiggers the facts to make it look like he’s with Columbo (and other police officials) when the crime occurs. Even Captain August points out that “you and I were both witnesses to” what he calls Salah’s “ironclad alibi.” Perhaps not a “most memorable moment,” but worth noting nonetheless.
I”d countDr Kepple’s second murder in Double Exposure too, when he tries to make it look like the murder occured while he was with Columbo.
Good catch. Thanks. You’re absolutely correct. Although I’ve never quite figured out that “alibi.” If Roger White didn’t change the first reel to the second, then Kepple must have made the change himself. So even if the murder occurred during the first reel, Kepple couldn’t leave until after the second reel began. I don’t see how White’s nickel really changes the timeline.
Yes, very true, I could never fit the time frame to the alibi either. Always thought I was missing something there.
Double Exposure could go on that list too. Kepple even plays up the fact that Columbo was with him at the supposed time of Roger White’s death.
First of all, it’s a real delight, dear Columbophile, to see you writing and posting so regularly again.
And second, I agree this is an episode oft-overlooked with lots of positives to recommend. Totally agree with your picks for number 1 and 2. both terrific television!
In my top 5 I would have included the scene featuring Columbo and Salah where Columbo tells his suspect about the plaster dust on top of the burnt papers, which shows that the safe was blown after the murder and not before. I remember seeing the episode for the first time and being particularly impressed by that observation; it’s also the moment that Hassan Salah realises that Columbo is serious opposition.