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…