It’s March 15, 1992, and you are cordially invited to the biggest LA society wedding of the year as supermodel Melissa Hayes ties the knot with dreamboat detective Andy Parma of the LAPD.
Not just a handsome lad with a physique to envy, Andy can also count on familial ties to the greatest homicide detective in US history: the humble Lieutenant Columbo, brother of Andy’s deceased mother Mary. What ought to be a day to be treasured goes horribly wrong, though, when Melissa is abducted from the honeymoon suite and taken captive by an obsessive fanboy, leaving Columbo and co. with an almighty mystery to solve.
Often referenced by fans as the single worst Columbo ever made, No Time to Die is certainly an escapade like no other for the Lieutenant. Is it as truly terrible as its reputation suggests, or could it be considered a brave and underrated departure for a series struggling for relevance? Let’s take the plunge and find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Melissa Hayes: Joanna Going
Det Andy Parma: Thomas Calabro
Rudy Strassa: Daniel McDonald
Sheldon Hays: Donald Moffat
Sergeant Goodman: Dan Butler
Det Dennis Mulrooney: Doug Savant
Bill Bailey: David Byrd
Alex Varrick: Daniel Davis
Tubby Comfort: Cliff Emmich
Albert Wagner: Don Swayze (Patrick’s brother!)
Directed by: Alan J. Levi
Written by: Robert Van Scoyk
Music by: Patrick Williams
Episode overview: No Time to Die
LAPD detective Andy Parma – nephew to the one and only Lieutenant Columbo – has married the girl of his dreams, supermodel Melissa Hayes, at a lavish ceremony bankrolled by her wealthy father. His joy is short lived, however, when he steps out of his post-party shower and finds that his blushing bride isn’t lying coquettishly in wait for him in the marital bed, but has instead vanished without trace.
At first assuming it’s part of a prank laid on by his frat boy-esque detective pals, Andy soon finds evidence of foul play in the form of a chloroform-soaked cotton wool pad carelessly left on the floor. Summoning Uncle Columbo to help establish the facts, the two men swiftly deduce that Melissa was immobilised by assailant or assailants unknown and bundled away unconscious down the conveniently close service stairwell.
Leaving Andy to light the Bat-Signal and muster their fellow detectives, Columbo goes snooping. At the bottom of the hotel’s service stairs he spots the kitchen of a local restaurant and thoroughly pumps pot wash Bill for details on what he might have heard and seen outside in the past hour. Helpfully, Bill saw a white delivery van reversing down the alley shortly before Melissa went missing – and heard it being loaded and departing some minutes later. He didn’t see the driver, but it’s a useful start to the investigation nonetheless.
Cut to a dingy, sparsely furnished room, the dim light from under the door illuminating a bound and gagged Melissa as she lies in a negligee on a rancid mattress. As she stirs into consciousness, we see a flashback of her hanging her bridal gown in the hotel suite, during which she is disturbed by a galloping man in a green surgical hat and mask who threatens her with a scalpel before zonking her out with the chloroform. Wherever she is, it certainly ain’t the honeymoon suite no mo’…
LAPD’s finest, meanwhile, are racking their brains over doughnuts and cigars at the hotel. Could Melissa have been kidnapped for a ransom? Her dad is a squillionaire, after all. Or could vengeful ex-con Albert Wagner be looking to punish Andy after he shot and killed his brother three years earlier? Andy even admits he only personally knew about 20% of the wedding attendees, most of whom were Melissa’s guests from the fashion industry. They’re going to need to check out everyone on the guest list – no small task for the detective team.
Back to Melissa – still lolling on the stinky mattress in near total darkness. Her mysterious, soft-voiced captor introduces himself and frees her from her bonds. She has no idea who he is, but he knows all about her. He claims her marriage is a sham because it hasn’t been consummated and reveals that all he wants from her is for her to love him. Then he locks her in her room again and beetles off, doubtless to commit more unsung wicked deeds.
At this point, viewers disappointed not to have enjoyed some steamy viewing of the newlyweds canoodling get some steamy action of a very different kind as Columbo sidekick Sergeant Goodman visits a Turkish baths establishment to seek intel from Jabba the Hutt stand-in (and police informant) Tubby Comfort on the whereabouts of Albert Wagner. Columbo himself, meanwhile, is making a late-night call to wedding photographer Alex Varrick. He wants copies of all the photos from the day to cross-reference against the guest list. The weary snapper agrees to assist.
Back in her dungeon, Melissa is now conversing with her subjugator who explains that she will be detained until 3pm, then freed to prepare for an as-yet undisclosed event that will take place at 3.45pm. He laments that his dear, dead mother won’t be able to join them for it, casually dropping it into the chit-chat that his mother had her throat cut by his father when he was 8 years old – and that his father then cut his own throat leaving the lad an orphan. Quite the conversation killer, I know. Melissa is spared having to trade tragedy stories, though, as he’s spiked her drink with a sleeping pill and, for the second time in their brief acquaintanceship, she’s out for the count.
(Editor’s note: at this point I start weeping as I realise we’re only halfway through the episode)
As the new day dawns, the police homies finally get a lead from our mate Tubby, who tells them the location of Albert Wagner, and reports that he was with a ‘spaced out’ woman when he checked into a seedy hotel at midnight. The lead doesn’t pay off, though. The girl with Wagner isn’t Melissa – just some smack addict he met at a bar. The cops seem no closer to a breakthrough.
Bleak as things look, Melissa is managing to keep her proverbial pecker up. Waking from slumber, she finds a healthy breakfast of fruit and salad (with oil and vinegar for dressing!) has been left out for her by her thoughtful jailer, as well as a note that suggests he has gone off to work for the day. Springing into action, Melissa checks out the door to her room and attempts to loosen its hinges with a fork and coat hanger – only to be stopped in her tracks due to the rusty condition of said hinges.
After initially damning her host for a lack of hinge-maintenance skillz, Melissa has the presence of mind to fall back on an old adage that vinegar has a million uses – including dissolving rust! We leave her excitedly applying the miracle tonic to the door hinges and head to police HQ, where the band of police bros are still agonisingly trying to finish the identification of every wedding guest. Only one man remains unidentified from the photos of the ceremony: it can only be Melissa’s floppy-haired abductor. Now they just have to find out who he is, and where he lives. Good luck with that…
Sending his underlings off to do some menial legwork, Columbo gate crashes Alex Varrick’s morning meeting with Feminine Flair magazine editor Eileen Hacker, as the pair pore over wedding photos for a six-page splash. The fawning Lieutenant obtains an additional photo featuring the unknown man, although neither photographer nor editor can identify him. Foiled again!
Rather than relying on the big, strong men to come to her aid, the plucky bride is forcing the issue herself. Through judicious use of vinegar and oil, she’s been able to unpick the door’s lower hinge and begins work on the upper one as the cops continue to toil. At last, Columbo makes a real discovery. A blow-up of his new photo of the mystery man shows him to be wearing a ring emblazoned with the word RAMSEY. The perp attended Ramsey College! Now there’s a real possibility of getting an ID in a hurry.
Andy and Sgt Goodman hit the college library to laboriously work through yearbooks in the hope of matching a name to the face of their suspect, while Columbo tracks down pot wash Bill to seek more information on the type of van he saw parking outside the hotel the night before. Both parties hit the jackpot: Columbo finds out that the white van at the crime scene was actually an ambulance. Even more importantly, Andy finds a match for their man in the yearbook. His name is Rudy Strassa.
As all this detective work plays out, Melissa manages to remove the door and explore the house. The front door’s predictably locked, but she gains entry to Strassa’s bedroom where she is given a clearer insight into the madness of the man imprisoning her. Opening the door triggers a slideshow of images from her modelling career, accompanied by a jillion-decibel pipe organ version of Here Comes the Bride. Melissa knows she’s in real trouble when she spies a heavily shoulder-ruffled wedding dress adorning a mannequin, while a coat of heavy black paint covers the window.
The outdated wedding gown finally triggers Melissa’s ‘flight’ impulse, but as she attempts to raise the window and escape, the music shuts off. In the most expected non-twist ever seen in a police drama, Strassa has returned! And he explains to Melissa that she is soon to be married again – to him! (please click below for appropriately dramatic musical cue)
(Editor’s note: how can there still be 15 more minutes of this tosh to endure?)
As the police desperately attempt to pinpoint Strassa’s location, the man himself is now resplendent in a white tuxedo and overseeing Melissa dressing in his mother’s former wedding dress and dolling herself up to his satisfaction. If the carrot of marrying him isn’t enough to keep her keen, the stick of his menacing scalpel blade will have to do instead. And guess what? Once they’re wed and have consummated the marriage betwixt some white silk sheets (rowwwrrr!), he’ll cut her throat – just as was done to his mama all those years ago.
Thankfully, Columbo is able to secure Strassa’s address from the hospital that employed him as a paramedic and the cops screech off in their black and whites. Help can’t come soon enough for Melissa, who is being worried at scalpel point into becoming Mrs Rudy Strassa. When she refuses to recite her vows, he even cuts her face with his minuscule blade before announcing them man and wife and kissing the bride. Next stop? The matrimonial bed, then a hideous death. Truly a day to remember, eh Melissa?
Just in the cliche-tastic nick of time, Andy and detective Mulrooney bust in via door and window. An enraged Strassa raises his arm to take a scalpel swipe at Melissa, but trigger happy Andy guns him down with four of the best to the torso. A gun-wielding Columbo (!) arrives at the scene in the wake of his younger colleagues and looks on in faint disbelief while Andy cuddles the traumatised Melissa as credits mercifully roll…
My memories of No Time to Die
Although I have definite memories of watching No Time to Die at least a couple of times in the past (on DVD, never while televised), I know it much more by reputation than by any real sense of familiarity. That reputation suggests that No Time to Die is a televisual debacle with no redeeming features, the very existence of which sullies the good name Columbo.
Whether or not that’s entirely fair is about to be thoroughly explored. I can remember so little of the minutiae of the episode beyond the wedding party scenes and lack of an actual murder that I might as well be watching this for the first time. Nevertheless, with so many fans rating it as the worst Columbo episode of all, I went into viewing this fully expecting No Time to Die to take bottom spot in my episode standings by a country mile.
If you’re one of the many, many Columbo fans who hold No Time to Die in low esteem, it’s probably worth exploring how it came to be in the first place before we take a deep-dive into its very murky waters. And while I don’t subscribe to today’s BLAME CULTURE, the one man most responsible for this extraordinary entry into the series is Peter Falk.
Back in 1991, Falk found himself as the sole Executive Producer for the show. A long-time stickler for the best stories and scripts, he sought advice from a trusted confidant about who might be able to deliver some red-hot mysteries for Columbo to solve. Their response? Check out Ed McBain, the pseudonym of Evan Hunter, who penned dozens of 87th Precinct novels between 1956-2005.
That recommendation alone appears to have been enough for Falk to go out and splash the cash on the rights to two McBain novels – So Long as You Both Shall Live and Jigsaw. Never you mind that McBain’s work bears no relation to the type of mysteries Columbo usually investigates, being very much more police procedurals with a large team of detectives working together to solve a variety of crimes. What could possibly go wrong?
The choice of So Long as You Both Shall Live (the novel adapted into No Time to Die) was a particularly perplexing one because it features no murder; no interaction between Columbo and the chief villain; a race against the clock; and demands its star man lead a team of colleagues, rather than follow his usual lone wolf modus operandi. Any one of the above elements could jeopardise viewer enjoyment. All of them combined threaten to derail the Columbo experience entirely, making No Time to Die a serious risk for Falk, the production team and the ABC network.
Was it, therefore, a brave or foolhardy move to bring this story to the screen? Well, history and hindsight tell us that No Time to Die is a major blot on the copybook: a Columbo episode in name only that is hated by the fanbase and tarnishes the reputation of the entire series. Amazingly, though, No Time to Die was a huge ratings hit for the series, attracting the highest viewership figures of any post-70s Columbo episode (including all the episodes that would follow until 2003). Falk and ABC could certainly claim that their courageous gamble to mix up the formula had paid off.
Now, 30 years after it first aired, No Time to Die is an interesting study. Played absolutely straight and presented as a dark, tense thriller, this is the series’ biggest departure since Last Salute to the Commodore in 1976 – and it has aged similarly poorly. The Columbo we know and love is replaced by a gritty and stern police detective who seems as much at home in the city’s underbelly as he does nosing around the mansions of the rich and famous. The character quirks and mannerisms so beloved by fans are almost completely absent, and there’s not an intentional laugh to be had throughout its 90 minutes.
The change in formula and tone isn’t necessarily what damns the piece, though. The darkness and lack of humour in 1973’s A Friend in Deed were entirely successful, after all. And for all its many faults, the whodunnit aspect of Last Salute had merit. The nature of No Time to Die’s source material means it had to be played with a straight bat, so tonally Falk and director Alan J. Levi got it right. The episode’s biggest issue is that the police procedural aspects are wretchedly mundane. For a supposed thriller, the investigation unfolds at such a microscopic rate that it’s impossible to ever feel excited or nervous. This is the most boring Columbo since Grand Deceptions.
It’s also extremely hackneyed: a damsel in distress who needs rescuing by a team of tough cops who break the case through sturdy but deeply uninspiring police work, busting a drug dealer and leaning on a police informer along the way to the gun-toting conclusion. It not only feels dated for the time (the original novel was published in 1976) but could be an episode of any humdrum police drama over a 30-year period. We should never feel that way about Columbo.
“For a supposed thriller, the investigation unfolds at such a microscopic rate that it’s impossible to ever feel excited or nervous.”
A chief bugbear for fans is the portrayal of the Lieutenant himself throughout. As referenced above, the beguiling charm of his eccentric mannerisms and bumbling humility are conspicuous by their absence. However, given the subject matter, it’s hard to see how to better pitch the character. We’ve always known that a lot of what we see of the Columbo character is a deliberate act designed to disarm the killers he’s closing in on. We also know this façade drops at different times depending on who he’s interacting with – a trait that harks right back to Season 1 when Columbo tough-talked the hapless golf pro in Death Lends a Hand.
Columbo never even meets kidnapper-cum-slasher Rudy Strassa in No Time to Die, so he has no real need to unleash his “shop-worn bag of tricks” schtick that we’ve become so familiar with. He’s largely in the company of colleagues, extended family members or non-suspects that he needs info from fast. Melissa’s abduction is also an event that impacts him and his family directly, making this a stressful and deeply personal matter that simply doesn’t afford him opportunities to act in anything other than a direct fashion.
Based on that premise, I think Falk actually hits the right notes throughout. We do get one scene where Columbo puts on his excitable act when crashing the editorial love-in between Alex Varrick and Eileen Hacker, but that aside he’s as sombre and serious as any man investigating the kidnapping of his niece-in-law would be.
However, while Falk’s performance may be grounded in a gritty reality, it only serves to underscore another major problem with the episode: watching Columbo behaving like any other cop is no fun at all. We even see the Lieutenant jalloping around with a gun in hand during the action-packed finale, for Pete’s sake! Such a scene represents everything that series creators Bill Link and Dick Levinson didn’t want for the character. As custodian of Columbo (the show and character), Falk should have known better.
Having Columbo as one cog in a larger team is also counter productive. We love seeing the Lieutenant mentally locking horns with a single opponent. Watching a bunch of other detectives that we’ll never see again eliminating suspects from lists and photos, collecting van hire brochures, or flipping through college yearbooks is seriously dull stuff. The couple of action sequences are over in a flash, so do little to combat the ennui. The only element from the team set-up that works is the reinforcement of Columbo’s leadership credentials and street smarts, but he’s much more watchable when flying solo.
We haven’t even touched on the woolly mammoth in the room yet: the lack of an actual murder in the episode, which makes Falk’s choice of buying the rights to the story in the first place extra questionable. An easy way of putting this to rights could’ve been for Strassa to have been forced to kill a luckless bellhop or chambermaid witness when attempting to escape with Melissa’s unconscious form. Columbo finding a corpse with a slit throat in the service stairwell would have served two purposes: firstly, it would have been a hardcore killing in keeping with the episode’s dark theme; and secondly, it would have upped Strassa’s threat level, which, to put it bluntly, is almost non-existent.
Played by Daniel McDonald (who sadly died of cancer at the age of 46 in 2007), Strassa certainly comes across as being a creepy weirdo, but he never feels dangerous. Given that No Time to Die aired only a year after The Silence of the Lambs brought two truly terrifying psychopaths in Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter to a global audience, Strassa is an absolute zero by comparison, who is about as threatening to life as a fart in an elevator. His only genuinely unsettling moment comes when he applies Melissa’s lipstick to himself as the two prep for their impending nuptials. The rest is absolutely by the numbers.
Strassa’s lack of credibility is heightened by his choice of weapon to keep Melissa in fear of her life: a surgical scalpel. While I accept that this could do a lot of damage if used against someone unexpectedly (or if they were unconscious), it seems so laughably feeble. In Melissa’s position, I’d take my chances against that pathetic blade in a heartbeat – especially after her MacGyver-style vinegar-and-oil escape from her prison. Not lacking in courage, she’d have been better off lying in wait for his return, then rushing at him while keeping her chin down, kneeing his gonads and smashing a chair over his back. We’ll see how much damage his widdle knifey-wifey does then, won’t we?
Naturally, there’s no depth of character for Strassa, who is a straight-up TV loon with no extras. We hear about his childhood trauma, but the roots of his obsession with Melissa are never touched upon and his plan to kidnap her appears to have been no more intricate than to wait outside her hotel suite listening at the door until an opportunity arose. Just as well the newlyweds didn’t hop straight into bed to romp, or he’d likely have still been waiting there the next morning. It’s just a really shallow characterisation, making Strassa one of the series’ least convincing (and least memorable) villains.
Cast as Melissa, Joanna Going is arguably even more poorly served. Left alone in a locked room for much of the episode, she has the dubious honour of having to talk to herself about the merits of vinegar and oil before having to play the helpless female to Strassa’s pin-pricking lunacy. To Going’s credit, she conveys the reluctance and fear required in the script, but Melissa’s hardly from the Ellen Ripley school of heroism, and her lack of true fight smacks of unadventurous writing.
“There’s no depth of character for Strassa, who is a straight-up TV loon with no extras.”
Elsewhere, the cast perform as a capable unit without any standouts. Columbo’s sidekicks are all identikit TV cops that could have appeared as supporting characters in any number of police dramas. They never threaten to rise above the dreary nature of the story, although soap opera fans can catch a glimpse of two of Melrose Place’s most famous almuni – Thomas Calabro and Doug Savant – sharing screen time a few months ahead of the roles that would make them household names.
Probably the most annoying character in the episode (and perhaps in all Columbo) is the appalling TUBBY COMFORT, the greedy, overweight, sauna-loving informer played by Cliff Emmich. While there is a police informant in McBain’s original novel, the choice to give him one of the stupidest names in TV history and cast a morbidly obese actor to compound that name was down to the production team. Tubby’s presence can only be considered a horrible attempt to inject humour into an episode that takes itself very seriously.
Luckily, that same staid story limited the opportunities to include the sort of drivel all too often thrown up in the ‘new Columbo’ era, but a handful of other dismal moments still managed to make the cut. For starters, I could happily have lived my whole life without seeing the Lieutenant jigging away like an old fool at the wedding reception as his colleagues roar with laughter from the sidelines and the twerking bride eggs him on with cries of “Go baby, go!” As my daughter now says every time I crack a side-splitting dad joke: “CRINGE!”
Even worse is his explanation to Melissa’s mother for Mrs Columbo’s absence, who is allegedly looking after her mother, who has broken her hip while learning to skateboard. Give me strength! Whoever penned such SWILL ought to have been relieved of their duties immediately and never worked in TV again. Are we supposed to take this seriously? Or must we assume that Columbo is trolling the seriously ill mother of the bride? Either way, the mystery of the unseen wife, so charming in the 70s, is now more of a ball and chain to the series than anything else. Either show her to us or don’t mention her at all rather than treat us like idiots with writing of this standard.
Similarly awkwardly handled is the question of Columbo’s first name. Even at a wedding with family members and colleagues galore, he is only ever introduced to folk as Lieutenant Columbo. Looking at things logically, if Columbo won’t allow himself to be properly identified in a safe environment like this, we can only assume his first name is a source of deep embarrassment to him, and that Mrs Columbo is literally the only person who knows it. There’s no shame in the name ‘Frank’, so we can officially discount that as his true appellation and deduce that his actual Christian name is one of: Zebedee, Hercules, Todger, Adolph, Buster, Sherlock, Kermit, Tarzan, Gaylord or Kevin. I rest my case, Your Honour…
While there’s no disguising the fact that No Time to Die is a bit of a train wreck, viewers that brave it can find occasional crumbs of comfort amongst the detritus. Chiefly, Falk absolutely rocks the tuxedo and raincoat look, and is really looking rather delicious throughout with his 5 o’clock shadow. Series regular Patrick Williams contributes another strong score that is sparely used to ominous effect, while there’s blissfully not so much as a hint of This Old Man. Easy-on-the-eye Andy and Melissa are the show’s hottest couple since Milo Janus and Jessica Conroy, Donald Moffat sports eyebrows that would make Gandalf jealous, and David Byrd makes dishwasher Bill one of the most authentic bit-part players of the era.
“No Time to Die’s high viewing figures at least partly vindicate the decision to bring it to the screen.”
That aside, No Time to Die is desperately poor. With just about everything that made viewers fall in love with the character and series missing, viewing it today is a jarring (not to mention boring) experience. The original novel was such a poor fit for Columbo that it was really a doomed enterprise from the start. Yet for all that, I can still see worth in the attempt. After all, the majority of Columbo episodes since 1989 had fared relatively poorly in the ratings. Why not take a chance on a fresh approach? No Time to Die’s high viewing figures at least partly vindicate the decision to bring it to the screen.
Unfortunately, No Time to Die is far too tepid and workmanlike a police story to stand the test of time under the broader Columbo umbrella. Should it ever have been made at all? Probably not. But it could very easily have been a whole lot worse had Falk and Levi tried to deviate from the sombre mood of the source material – a thought far, far more frightening than the scalpel-wagging Rudy Strassa could ever be.
No Time to Die: the unseen fallout
Five years have passed since the events of No Time to Die. Despite an ostensibly happy ending to the Strassa abduction, Melissa has been unable to shake the PTSD connected with the event. Subsequent wedding anniversaries caused her such anxiety that she was forced to file for divorce from Andy after three years of wedlock. He spiralled into alcoholism and was discharged from the force after boiling Tubby Comfort alive in a Turkish steam bath. Andy’s whereabouts are currently unknown, his well-wishing colleagues’ hunt for him hampered by the loss of LA’s only reliable police informant.
Despite hitting the coke hard, Melissa managed to salvage her career in modelling and found a workable version of love with lecherous photographer Alex Varrick. The photos he now takes of her in their home studio are not fit for publication, although she continues to grace the cover of Feminine Flair, Vogue etc on a regular basis and remains in demand by several of the world’s leading designers. Due to a range of OCD complications, there are no doors in Melissa’s home, nor does she allow vinegar or oil to be served with her salad lunches.
It’s not all bad news, though. Mrs Columbo’s mother made a full recovery from breaking her hip and continued her skateboard renaissance, ultimately securing a top-20 finish in the ‘street’ discipline of the Pensioner X-Games in 1997. #winning
How I rate ’em
No Time to Die is hard to rank alongside other Columbo episodes as it features so few of the series’ traditional elements. It’s safe to say that it’s a interminably dreary slice of television, but does it offend me more than the very worst Columbo outings I’ve encountered up to now? I actually think not – and that’s why (shock, horror!) it doesn’t take the bottom rung on my current rankings ladder.
Yes, it’s terrible. No, I don’t care if I never see it again. But compared to the pseudo-soap stylings, cheap production and appalling acting of Murder in Malibu; or the lifeless, joyless and thoroughly tedious Grand Deceptions, No Time to Die doesn’t seem quite so bad. However grim the final outcome, it has a level of ambition and intent about it that has to count for something. What is more worrying is that there’s a second McBain story lurking round the corner in the shape of 1994’s Undercover – an episode I now fear will be a whole lot worse than this one.
If you missed any of my previous ‘new Columbo’ reviews, access them via the links below.
- Columbo Goes to College
- Agenda for Murder
- Death Hits the Jackpot
- Columbo Cries Wolf
- Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
- Sex & The Married Detective
- Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
- Murder, A Self Portrait
- Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
- Murder, Smoke & Shadows
- Uneasy Lies the Crown
- No Time to Die
- Grand Deceptions
- Murder in Malibu
I haven’t yet slotted 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.
Now then, I’d love to hear your own thoughts on No Time to Die, which I suspect will make for enjoyable reading. Does it have any redeeming features? Or does it deserve every bit of criticism it has received over the last three decades? Don’t pull your punches!
Once the asbestos has settled on this woeful adventure, the next stop on our marathon Columbo journey is the series’ 61st episode, A Bird in the Hand… starring the ever-watchable Tyne Daly and thinking housewives’ favourite heartthrob Greg Evigan! Until then, farewell…
Okay so personally I think the hatred for this episode is overblown. It’s not the best Columbo by far. And frankly it loses points by the fact Columbo is seen holding a gun (even if he does look at it a bit confused/mystified/with a hint of ‘guns, what are they good for, ABSOLUTELY nothing’. And the villain is meh. But it’s not that bad and for my money is twenty times better than the Commodore and his confounded watch. I get why people don’t like it. It’s definitely not very Columbo. But for 90 minutes of TV, it could be far far far far worse.
Now if Mack had turned up…
I agree with those who put No Time To Die at the bottom of the list. It is just a cheap thriller with a thoroughly disgusting and unbelievable villain. Next to the bottom I would put A Bird in the Hand because the Tyne Daly character and the Evigen character are so despicable and intolerable and the story with too many abrupt changes, and too many people get killed. Just above would be Murder in Malibu with its unbelievable lover and the abrupt relationship he forged with a woman who hated him. Then above Malibu is Undercover, with the uncharacteristic Columbo and too many murders for too little money, but at least it was about an interesting puzzle.
Eric, welcome to the 90s Columbo! Get ready for panty fetishes, tubas and MC Hammer pants…hehe
Honestly this episode is very interesting, because it’s basically not a Columbo episode. Like they took an okay episode of a standard cop show and put Columbo in it, and now it’s a bad episode of Columbo. Something like this could work in another show, but just not this show. Honestly I’m not a fan of the “Insane psycho who does crazy things for no reason” trope that’s common in cop shows, like nobody is like that IRL, it’s just overdone copaganda, and it’s not very interesting. To be honest, I’m glad nobody died in this episode, I would have been so pissed if Melissa died towards the end, because it would have made all this a waste of time. If anything, this episode was a nice change of pace from the usual 90s stuff, but I wouldn’t really want to see it again.
I’ve never seen “copaganda” before. That’s great !!
I was so shook by this episode I had to immediately turn to the internet to know I wasn’t the only one who hated it… blissfully, I am not alone. Overall, I agree with your review…even that taking the risk gave it some merits. I will say the lipstick thing actually really pissed me off. It’s a played out gimmick that has not aged well. A man wearing “womens things” being an obvious example of loonacy is so out of touch it hurts…especially coming out of the 80s. I also felt the bride being so incapable of defending herself was laughable. If she has the ability to get herself out of that room, she would have the ability to kick him in the nuts, another point we agree on. I will say…I did like the photographer…I felt the banter with him was true to Columbo spirit and I especially liked the cheeky “spent the night together” bit. But even that doesn’t outweigh the damage it does to the series for me. I’m hoping drinking to forget will remove this afront to entertainment from my Columbo canon.
I am French and I did not understand the sentence at 1 h 16 min. According to the script Strassa says We’ll have to bring the ceremony forward “. But I rather hear “it could be someway forward” or “it would be someway forward”. a large number of lampshades in the film, whose cone of light draws a hyperbole on the wall. In the final credits a lampshade is in the foreground. If we take the word hyperbole in the rhetorical sense, we can say that the room of Strassa is immaculate at the end of the film, it is in fact almost all white.
I liked it No problem with it. My favorite.
Décidément, vos perceptions tendent vers le métaphorique.
9 minutes after the start of the episode, the painting of a bride with a fan veil and a bird with a fan tail reminds me of the woman with a fan by Modigliani.
The only bit of interest would be the appearance of two sit-com players: the guy who played Bulldog (the sports radio Personality) on “Frasier” & Daniel Davis who played Niles, the butler on “The Nanny” – minus his British accent! There was at least the element of discovery as they appeared out of their usual context!
Although clearly not a typical Columbo, I enjoyed the change of pace. Was Columbo like a million other tv cops? Yes, but the format change for me was interesting and a nice surprise. Also Melissa’s efforts to get out using the oil and vinegar as opposed to laying there crying was refreshing. I thought the episode was an interesting surprise.
It is my favorite.
I witnessed this one with my hands over my mouth, my ears and my eyes, horrified. I agree with all of your typically great review except — loved seeing our man dancing. Adorable.
Your list of his possible first names was side-splittingly funny. Your captions never fail to cause hilarity over here. Thank you for that antidote to the #%%^&$4 episode.
I ve just seen this « lower than zero » episode and then read your critic and I ve cried of laughing 😂
Thanks you mate !
It aired on the Ides of March!
I’ve read your write ups before and think you really nailed it. Yeah the acting was ok and it was mostly an ok police drama but it sure wasn’t Columbo. I’m still getting through the “new” series stuff(mostly disappointing)and thought some ideas like in Death at a Funeral were at least worth a try.
This one doesn’t cut it though.
Hoping there’s no episode as bad as Murder in Malibu. Truly appalling.
Have not seen it. Sounds awful but to be worse than Grand Deceptions would be hard. Even that I could watch all the way through which I could not do with Malibu or Undercover. Maybe the worst of the others I saw all of was the episode with Norm from Cheers as the killer. Oh, and Nightlife I couldn’t finish either.
This episode is bad. Not the worst “Columbo” ever, that would be “Murder in Malibu”, but it’s bad. Very, very bad. I’ve defended the Columbo revival episodes before, and the best of them are just as good as the ’70s episodes, and all the flaws that get nitpicked in the ’90s episodes were also there on the first run.
But there’s no defending this one, it is baaaaaaad. And if it were Peter Falk playing a detective named Jim Smith or whatever, it would still be bad.
Joanna Going however was just astonishingly good looking and should have been a bigger star. Just incredible eye candy. The only redeeming thing about this terrible episode.
Like I said, I liked it. I would put it in my top five easily. I think most don’t like it because of the format. I liked something different. We saw a different side of Colombo.
CP – just wondering if you’ll be able to do a “Five Best Moments” for this episode? I suppose you can always include the rolling of the end credits as one of them, but that still leaves four more moments!
I don’t know if the 5 best articles will be able to carry on into the new episodes because SO MANY struggle to deliver genuine highlights. I might have to do Worst 5!
Five best moments in Time to die
1. Colombo finding shoe on stair way and hiding it in his pocket.
2. End scene of killing kidnapper and Colombo with gun- a rare thing indeed.
3. Opening scene with Colombo remembering his wedding.
4. Best line-i married into a cop family so where are they. Bride when kidnapped.
5.Colombo taking charge and finding out out kidnappers home.Telling his captain to kill sirens on way there.
Heres this sundays line up on 5 USA
Starting 9am with
Swan song ( my top pick )
Murder under glass
Rest in peace mrs columbo
Lovely but lethal
Not the best line up bar Double exposure and Swan song im not a huge fan of rip mrs columbo but iknow a lot of people like it
Annd i dont rate murder under glass i dont hate grand deceptions but its dull
Hope you enjoy it people and once again no airing of no time to die on this chanbel and looking forward to CPs bext review
Todays line up on 5 USA wich is something of a mixed bag
9 10 am Negative reaction
11 10 Now you see him
1 00 murder a self portait
2 55 case of immunity
4 20 fade in to murder
555 most dangerous match
730 try and catch me
Try and catch ‘ Now you see him and negative reaction are easily the standout
A few things puzzle me about this episode.
1. If Strassa is planning a murder-suicide, why does he feel the need to go to work one last time? It’s not like he’s going to need the money.
2. When the cops surround the house, the front door seems to have been kicked in. Why couldn’t Melissa get out that way?
3. After the abduction, Columbo confiscates a bottle of cologne. The evidentiary value of this is never explained.
My memory of the episode is fading, but wasn’t there some statement that Strassa was fired on that last day? Maybe he went to work to say something or do something that was emotionally satisfying but would end his employment. As for the cologne, Columbo seemed to suspect the note on it was faked, but you’re right, the situation was never explained.
He needed to steal the ambulance !
Obviously Falk’s pursuit of McBain novels for Columbo scripts made little sense, and there’s not much else to say about that ill fit. However, I think this new observation from CP bears further comment: “The choice of So Long as You Both Shall Live (the novel adapted into No Time to Die) was a particularly perplexing one because it features no murder; no interaction between Columbo and the chief villain; a race against the clock; and demands its star man lead a team of colleagues, rather than follow his usual lone wolf modus operandi.”
So why that novel? Well, I know zilch about the McBain catalog, but judging from the 90s Columbo episodes leading up to this one, it’s not hard to accept that this particular story was selected primarily for its sexually salacious element. This devolution into outright rape had become practically par for the course for a rebooted series that up to that point had featured a mid-coitus killing, a semi-cultish open relationship (3 women to 1 man, of course), a Playboy playmate setting, another mid-coitus death, a panty-laden plot device plus brother/sister-in-law facesucking, that wholly unnecessary creepy scene of college kid and his mom, a porn tape plot device, yet another bedroom killing, and a torrid uncle/niece affair. Following NTTD, the series resumed with a torrid aunt/nephew affair, mother/daughter sharing a lover, etc., etc., etc.
I’m no prude and readily admit to enjoying far more sinful entertainments. But call me crazy, I don’t much care for feeling dirty after watching Columbo, the bedrock of which entails a murderer being brought to justice. The ABC producers clearly had other things on their minds.
Interesting take G4; not heard that angle before but yes your observations seem pretty well correct; thanks!
Why choose “So Long as You Both Shall Live”? The answer might lie in Falk’s response to the critics of the episode (as found in David Koenig’s “Shooting Columbo”): “I was happier with the one we shot than I would have been with the alternatives we had. I just can’t stand the ones that don’t have a pop at the end, which are the hardest to come up with. We didn’t have a good pop in any of the scripts I saw, and I thought they were all soft in the middle, so we decided to go with that one.”
I’m particularly struck by his fixation on “the ones that don’t have a pop at the end.” To me, it looks like Falk chose a story far removed from the normal Columbo format specifically because, that way, it wouldn’t need “a good pop” at the end. In other words, the change of story structure wasn’t a bug but a feature. If you can’t find the thing that’s “the hardest to come up with,” then find a story that doesn’t need it.
Interesting. Of course, if he chose the McBain structure specifically for its lack of pop, then any one of those stories would have sufficed. We’re still left wondering why THIS novel? NTTD certainly lacks a pop and referring to other scripts as “soft in the middle” doesn’t satisfy me. There were more than three dozen McBain novels in 1989.
As a TV-movie with Peter Falk playing a character named Columbo, this is passable fare, not much more. Regarded in the context of the cannon, it plunges the depths, I’m affraid.
Having been watching “Columbo” from the beginning starting around Christmas 2020 and then (re)discovering this blog, I’ve been waiting for the reviews here once I caught up. By the time I got to NTTD tonight, I knew the episode’s reputation.
And, uh, well. This episode is sure a thing, isn’t it.
I’ve been trying to decide if it’s an intrinsically bad story, or just an incredibly bad fit for Columbo, and I’ve come down on the latter side pretty conclusively. Nothing about this feels like a Columbo story. It feels like a made-for-TV cop drama—and it might have been better off if it had just been a straight adaptation of “So Long As You Both Shall Live”.
Of course, if they’d done that, it would have probably been a long since forgotten TV movie. Instead, we’re still talking about it 30 years later!
I’ll probably make enemies by saying this but I often enjoy these late episodes because they are, well, silly. Even low-brow sitcoms can be fun and elements of this episode share some of those traits. I was fully expecting the captain to scold Columbo by discovering that he didn’t have a gun in the final scene. Later, when we are shocked to find that he does have a weapon, I was certain that the lieutenant would discover a lack of cartridges, ala Barney Fife. Foiled in both cases of course but I would not have been surprised.
Fun in its way, NTTD still does detract from the series so I’ll go watch an early episode as a palette cleanser.
This is the only episode I have been unable to watch. The British TV Channels haven’t shown any repeats of it to my knowledge. Not that I appear to be missing out.
Ive seen it only once or twice ever in my life in britain and that was about 15 years ago they NEVER
Air this on 5USA on
i couldnt enjoy the review cos i have almost zero memory if it other than some bride escaping from a room and that is very vauge so i couldnt enjoy the review as i havent seen the episode they occasionaly show other stinkers such as murder with too many notes
Malibu and undercover but never this one if any has the offical reason why im all ears
You can find all the Columbo episodes uploaded to the Internet Archive here (legally, AFAIK, though in low resolution): https://archive.org/details/@edadam
I feel zero chemistry between Melissa and Andy. Also Andy is a tool. What does she see in him?
The wedding looks cheap for a successful supermodel with a wealthy father.
That creepy stalker character seems very reminiscent of a popular theme in the late 80s early 90s. He did nail the creepy vibes I must say.
For a moment, I thought the villain was being played by Bill Brochtrup (who played John Irvin, the civilian aide on “NYPD Blue”). T’isn’t.
I think the so-called “villain” abducted Melisssa out of spite since he seemed more of the type to be interested in the groom. Seeing the psycho apply lipstick to himself was the icing on the cake!
Such a fun review for such a terrible episode. Thank you, CP, for making my day!
For me this one hits rock bottom. if there’s one thing I disagree on it’s its place in the final ranking. Even if you dislike Grand Deceptions for any number of reasons, surely that one is far more enjoyable to watch than this… this… what exactly is it? Even disregarding the Columbo aspect of this thing, judging it as a one off tv movie, it’s plain awful. There’s hardly any story involved, the acting is as terrible as the script… and I could go on but I won’t. There’s simply nothing I enjoy watching No time to die.
My personal bottom 3 Columbo’s are
67. Strange Bedfellows
69. No Time to die
Undercover is sort of on the same level as No Time To Die but with slightly less hammy acting and a slightly better story – just slightly.
Not a Columbo though.
And if Strange Bedfellows had a redeeming feature it would have been that, for the first half hour, it can still be identified as a Columbo episode.
Maybe Peter Falk had foresight… and he knew that one day a terrible movie would be the subject of a great review… and he gave it a go.
In my opinion, this is the worst episode of columbo ever, I watched it once and it’s one of the few episodes I never felt like going back to watch, instead I really like undercover for the unusual treasure hunt formula, I also find 2 of those you mentioned, grand deceptions and murder in malibu extremely boring, but at least those have the classic columbo formula; no time to die is just a regular movie.
I usually go back and rewatch an episode before CP does the big review. But I just couldn’t bring myself to it with this once. I saw it during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, and that was enough for me. I have only seen this episode twice. (Ties for the fewest viewings, along with “Undercover” and “Last Salute.”
The things that I enjoyed: the looks of that beautiful female newlywed. Wow, she’s a smoke-show. The way Columbo and his team went through the pictures was okay; but it doesn’t really differ much from any other crime show.
That’s it…that’s all I have.
The yearbook thing? Maybe it’s because I went to a gigantic Big 10 university here in the States; but not everybody takes yearbook pictures in college. And it just so happens that the fictional Ramsey College is adjacent to L.A.? (I get it…the majority of graduates stick close to home, but it was just too convenient for me.
Really, that’s all I have.
Glad your daughter is doing better, CP!
Going to read the comments now.
Oh, and just one more thing. I never nitpick about anybody’s “rankings,” be it sports or a favorite/least favorite episode.
CP, I would put a BIG drop from “Uneasy” at #12 to “NTTD” at #13. In fact, it’s a cliff for me, more than a drop.
Yes, the bottom three of the current list are well adrift of the pack!
NTTD is clearly bottom of the barrel for most fans but I’m sure we can all agree that Melissa’s wedding dress was the best part of the episode, right?
I’ve got a lot of love for Grand Deception. There’s far worse episodes. No Time to Die is WITHOUT A DOUBT, the worst episode of Columbo EVER.
Right. I didn’t think it possible, but CP actually overrates NTTD here. 🙂
I agree with the both of you here. Personally I like Grand Deceptions too… but even it you don’t, its flaws are nothing compared to No Time To Die.
I don’t get the hatred for ‘Grand Deceptions’ either. As far as I could tell on watching, its main flaw was being rather dull – nowhere NEAR the same level of badness as ‘Last Salute’ or ‘Murder in Malibu’. (I guess you could argue those are at least amusingly terrible, though I just found them painful and cringeworthy, not amusing.)
Theres not a great deal of humor or fun in by dawns early light which grand deceptions is a sort of cheap 90s spin off but by dawns early light t is tonnes better in overall quality although i dont hate grand deceptions and i place it very low but surely undercover is going to be placed lower
Agree with Grand Deceptions, it would actually be towards the top of the list of later year episodes for me. I would have to put Murder In Malibu as the absolute worst episode though, but No Time to Die isn’t much better.
On the advice of CP to give ‘No Time to Die’ just one more chance, which I will, I will hold off in placing NTTD as the bottom feeder. But in the meantime, I’d have to put ‘Murder in Malibu’ at the very bottom of the list. It has the worst acting of any TV show/movie I’ve ever seen. Andrew Stevens, who was once nominated for a Golden Globe Award, apparently was replaced by a cardboard stand-in during his Columbo appearance. I used to have ‘Last Salute to the Commodore’ as my regular season bottom feeder, but I’ve since learned to rather enjoy it. The quirkiness and offbeat style is quite amusing, if not truly following the Columbo formula.
Yes Murder in Malibu is a debacle and should have never been released. I agree that Last Salute is not as bad as it’s negative rating. It’s not a good episode though, but just not in the league with the horrific Murder In Malibu.
I guess many didn’t like seeing ravenous cougar Brenda Vacarro practically rape poor little Andrew Stevens.
Nice…..that scene made me wonder if the episode was a satire comedy.
A tererrible scene in a dreadful episode i hate every scene wayne and that woman share i keep
porgetting her stage name the episode is so bad the gotcha in murder in malibu is also very weak
I’ll limit myself to three criticisms.
1. Columbo’s nephew weds a supermodel isn’t exactly a plausible beginning. My image of a Columbo bride is someone who is intelligent and patient but not a great beauty – a fine woman that other men overlooked. It would have made more sense if the supermodel bride or her groom were well known to Columbo but not a relative. That would have made Mrs. Columbo’s absence (slightly) more believable too.
2. That Rudy was able to abduct Melissa and get away without being seen required extraordinary good fortune in timing and circumstances. It’s OK for a villain to be lucky but he shouldn’t be performing miracles.
3. I don’t know exactly what the Los Angeles Police Department would have done in 1992 to help a witness identify a vehicle. Please tell me it didn’t involve frantically visiting car dealerships to grab brochures.
You can rip apart every episode if one chooses to. Tell me your favorite and I will find faults with it too. All of this is just a matter of opinion. There is probably a million people who have never heard of this site who liked this one. I liked it and you can’t change that.
If you liked it, I don’t want to change that. I’m glad watching it made you happy. I don’t think your experience was typical though.
I don’t see the actress playing Eileen Hacker’s name in the cast list. From the photo here she looks like Juliet Mills. Was it her, uncredited?
Yes, that’s Juliet Mills from TV show “Nanny & the Professor” and hilarious film “Avanti” with Jack Lemmon. Was nice to see her but…..have to admit I much rather enjoyed seeing Falk, Savant and Calabro in tuxedos.
Juliet Mills was so gorgeous back in the day! I still remember her from many TV appearances, not to mention the infamous “Beyond The Door” from 1974.
IS THERE anything WRONG???! An exciting series has been RUINED by the presence of this…This….VISUAL FILTH!!!” 😉
I remembered this had Daniel Davis in it, but forgot it had Doug Savant, Donald Moffat and Dan Butler in it too. I haven’t watched it in ages, but I feel your review is 100% accurate of my memories of it. I’d still probably like it better than “Mind over Mayhem” however.
Interestingly, in addition to Savant and Calabro bagging long-term series, the same can be said for Daniel Davis and Dan Butler. “The Nanny” snatched up Davis for Deadpan Snarker Niles the Butler, while Dan Butler was snatched up by “Frasier” as Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe. That has to be some sort of a record, four actors from a made-for-t.v. movie all snagging strong roles in long-running series within a year of the tv film airing.
This review certainly makes up for the episode. I was cringing the entire time I watched it. Your review at least made me laugh!
Thank you! It was much more fun writing the review than watching the episode.
I liked it. I like the wedding scene and the actors.Had a pretty girl.i like that Colombp has a gun at the end.The other ones are boring to watch a second time.
As damaging as NTTD is to the “Columbo” brand, what about to the Ed McBain brand? Surely, many of the lackluster and dreary elements of this episode can be traced to the original source? I haven’t read McBain and can’t provide context, but I’m certainly not eager to read any of his work after this.
By 1992, “Columbo” writers were boxed into a corner. Verbalizing Columbo’s first name would be like meeting Mrs. Columbo, or Columbo driving a cherry-red Corvette or getting a French poodle or smoking a corncob pipe. Not gonna happen. And I do get that.
So that makes the decision of Peter Falk to hold up in front of his face a police badge that clearly says “Frank Columbo” in “Jackpot” all the more mystifying. Nobody told Exec Producer and micromanager Falk to do it that way. It didn’t have to be filmed. It could have been cut or altered in post-production. It didn’t have to happen at all. Yet it did happen. Twice. We didn’t imagine it. If acknowledging that his first name is Frank is not an option for some fans, OK, but then what remains is the option that the “Columbo” team is trolling us to engage in this silly little debate (a trap I’m clearly guilty of falling into).
Rich, if you’d like to see NTTD “disqualified” as a real “Columbo”, then you wouldn’t have to worry about all the pretzels that people twist themselves into to avoid saying his name in this episode. I’m perfectly happy to have NTTD be a snowglobe fantasy imagined by Sgt. Kramer.
its just a matter of taste.there is no worst or best .
I agree with you about the episode the only best thing about this episode was Melissa’s wedding dress
Truly, deeply, madly the WORST!!!!!
I saw this episode when it first aired on television. My response then was, “That was truly awful”, and I feared that Columbo was headed in a direction I didn’t wish to follow. Your review had me in stitches – it made it worth having sat through the dismal episode in the first place.
As with most of the 90s Columbo, CP’s awesome analysis is far more entertaining than the lame episodes themselves!
once again, it is nil my to five. i don’t know why you guys hated it so. The other ones are sometimes boring because you know the murderer. your number one favorite, the bye bye…. is at the bottom of my list.
One of my favorites. If I was going to rewatch one that would be the one .
Mentioning that “No Time to Die” had the highest ratings of ABC’s “Columbo” revival is diminished by the fact that in 1992, cable networks were drawing viewers away from America’s “Big Three” broadcast networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC. That trend would only increase over the course of the decade. It was also during the 1990s that the “Big Three” would phase out their made-for-TV movies, leaving cable to pick them up.
In addition to the two actors who would become famous on “Melrose Place”, NTTD also featured Dan Butler, who would become famous a few years later as cartoonish macho man “Bulldog” on “Frazier”.
All your critical darts are bull’s eyes, but what strikes me most when I (rarely) watch any second-wave Coulmbos (aside from the slippage in most of Falk’s performances) is the fact that, with a few exceptions, he’s performing “alone.” These shows are peopled with 90’s nobodies – none of the other actors have the “juice” of a Jack Cassidy, a Leonard Nimoy, a Lee Grant, or even a Vitto Scotti, and that was never truer than in this episode. It makes a huge, dull, difference.
I disagree – there are some high caliber actors who make appearances: Tyne Daly, Patrick McGoohan (of course), Lindsay Crouse, Robert Vaughn, and a few others. But about half of them have this problem: either weak actors or strong actors (George Wendt, for example) playing against type and not quite pulling it off.
Yes, the appeal is always Columbo vs. the arrogant killer. That’s been the reality from the start.
I find it hard to rate NTTD because it just doesn’t feel like a Columbo at all. It’s not a bad murder mystery because it isn’t even a murder mystery! As least “Last Salute to the Commodore” was a murder case, though it ended up as a whodunit instead of a howcatchem.
Let’s not forget Shera Danese. She was literally the Mike Lally of the 90s Columbo!
You missed Janet Leigh, Eddie Albert, Johnny Cash, Forrest Tucker, Jack Cassidy and Julie Newmar as top names that appeared on Colombo.
“Thomas Parker” was referring to the lack of star power among the villains in ABC’s “Columbo” revival.
Did Robert Vaughan appear in the second series? Think you might be thinking of George Hamilton.
Hamilton made an appearance as a villain in the second series. Vaughn didn’t.
Yesterday, I watched “No Time to Die” for the first time in thirty years. Since it first aired in 1992, I never had any interest in rewatching it — for the simple reason that it’s not a Columbo. It’s a two-hour TV movie staring Peter Falk as a cop using every resource at his disposal to find a kidnap victim before she comes to harm. As that, it’s not so bad. The police work is solid, the leads credible, the trail logical. Change the cop’s name and I doubt anyone would be horror-stricken about it.
But the Columbo label should mean something. It isn’t just a formula, it’s a promise. We’re promised a certain kind of mystery drama, with certain specific elements — elements that elevate it above all those run-of-the-mill police procedurals where a woman in jeopardy is saved in the nick of time by a cop hero and his partner with their guns blazing. “No Time to Die” breaks that promise. That doesn’t make it good or bad, but it does disqualify it as a Columbo.
CP could have skipped this review altogether as far as I’m concerned. None of the critical criteria he uses to judge a Columbo has any application here. He might as well drop in a review of “… All the Marbles” or “The Princess Bride,” both of which have the identical relationship to Columbo as “No Time to Die”: they star Peter Falk.
CP notes that Columbo never meets his suspect, “so he has no real need to unleash his ‘shop-worn bag of tricks’ schtick that we’ve become so familiar with.” The closest we get here are his interactions with the police captain, where Columbo must butter up his superior while pushing him in the other direction. It was the most Columbo-like he got.
There is only one thing about this episode I find noteworthy. It is the excellent evidence CP marshals proving that Columbo’s first name is not Frank (or any other common name for that matter). Columbo is supposed to be the groom’s closest living relative. He’s the groom’s counterpart to the bride’s parents, and sits with the immediate family. We see him introduced frequently. As “Frank” or “Andy’s Uncle Frank”? Never. Only as “Lieutenant Columbo.” No one with a common first name would be spoken of, under those circumstances, that way.
[Then again, Columbo keeps referring to his wife, to such people as the bride’s mother (whom he calls “Mrs. Hays,” not “Louise”) and the bride, as “Mrs. Columbo” — not “my wife” or “Andy’s aunt.” Bizarre.]
However, what these scenes underscore most for me is WHY Columbo was never given a first name. Of course, he has one. His birth certificate doesn’t read “Baby Boy Columbo.” He wasn’t given one because the creators never envisioned him in a scene with anyone who legitimately would use it. He works alone. He rarely is at his office, and then only with superiors or subordinates (who naturally call him “Columbo” or “Lieutenant,” respectively) — never true colleagues. [He’s with a fellow Lieutenant in “A Friend in Deed” who, obviously and ironically, is not a friend.] We never see him with any of the family members he speaks about. His only extracurricular life we see is with Dog.
These are as much treasured hallmarks of Columbo as its inverted mysteries, cat-and-mouse banter, and “pop” clues.
“Whoever penned such SWILL?” CP asks. Veteran Columbo writer Robert Van Scoyk — the only Edgar Allan Poe Award winner (from the Mystery Writers of America) for a Columbo teleplay (for “Murder Under Glass”).
I haven’t seen ‘No Time to Die’, but your first paragraph is pretty much the same way I feel about ‘Undercover’, the other Ed McBain episode. I’ve watched it and it’s honestly not that bad – certainly not as terrible as Columbophile seems to fear – but it simply doesn’t feel like a ‘Columbo’ episode at at all. It’s a standard police procedural that happens to star Peter Falk. Change the main character’s name and you’d never realise it had anything to do with Columbo.
I am a bit of an Ed McBain fan and some of his earlier work is superb. He has been adapted to film a few times. Some examples are…
The was an 87th Precinct T series in 1961/62 staring Robert Lansing, Gena Rowlands, Ron Harper, Gregory Walcott, and Norman Fell
High and Low (King’s Ransom) (1963) by Akira Kurosawa. Yes Seven Samurai Kurosawa.
Sans Mobile Apparent (Ten Plus One) (1971) by Philippe Labro
Lonely Heart (Lady, Lady, I Did It) (1981) by Kon Ichikawa
He also wrote the screen play for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds
The is also a Hark! The 87th Precinct Podcast which has been going since 2016 and as of this post the latest release was in 28-03-2022.
If I could have advised Peter Falk, I would have recommended He Who Hesitates and The Empty Hours.
He Who Hesitates.
Imagine Death Lends a Hand told from Brimmer’s POV. They would have to change the ending but it would work.
The Empty Hours. IMHO the best story he ever wrote.
A woman is found dead and all they have is a name and a collection of cancelled cheques (As a UK inhabitant, do they even send cancelled cheques anymore?). The cheques lead you through this woman’s life. I can see Columbo tracking each cheque as it leads him around Los Angeles locations both high and low. You must read if you ever get the chance.
To me Jigsaw(Undercover) was a very weak novel and by the time you get to So Long as You Both Shall Live (No Time To Die) McBain was a spent force.
Regarding Columbo’s extracurricular life, “Troubled Waters” and “A Matter of Honor” both opened with Columbo on vacation, and Columbo mixed pleasure with business in “Dagger of the Mind.” “Troubled Waters” at least showed that you can have an extended scene of an off-duty Columbo and still make a very good episode.
But even these were not extracurricular activities among family and friends — among people who generally would converse on a first-name basis.
Well even Mrs. Columbo and their imaginary children called him “Lieutenant”. The only one that called him “Frank” was his pooch, Dog.
Mrs. Columbo calls him “Louie,” to confuse everybody.
I hate this episode but love this review. I cried with laughter several times while reading. Thanks for the laughs, CP! And a happy Easter!
I keep saying I’ll give this episode “just one more chance” when it comes around in my home DVD rotation, but I somehow just can’t let it play. My DVD player is teetering on the edge of darkness as it is, and I feel playing this may either result in the darn thing dying off or me throwing something through the TV as I sit up to watch this dreck. Your review has given it a sliver of a chance – after all, I’ve grown somewhat accepting of “The Last Salute to the Commodore” and I can even stomach “Murder in Malibu” once in a while and I must admit to having a “rather perverse affection” for “Undercover” – maybe I can make it through.
Give it a go, John! I’d be interested to hear your verdict if you do.
Will do, CP!
After the death of her husband, my ex-wife’s brother’s wife’s mother (ex-aunt in law?) moved in with the couple and actually took up skateboarding. Hollywood, it seems, is no match for real life, though old bat might have gotten the idea from watching this episode.
I think that I have seen all of this outing (though definitely not in one sitting). It stinketh. As criminal justice procedurals go, any randomly chosen Law and Order would be better than this, even one without Lenny Briscoe.
I have two issues with this episode. First, Columbo’s reaction at the end. He’s smiling, which just doesn’t make sense. It would have been more appropriate for him to look on somberly.
Second, is the knowledge of the PTSD Melissa and Andy are going to have. After I watch this episode, I can only think of how much their lives will change. (Yes I realize it’s not real, but I can’t stop thinking about them as if it were real)
All the other Columbo episodes have a sense of fun, despite the murders, this one does not. At all.
No Time to Die is terrible and barely fits the Columbo format however, you are absolutely spot on when you say Murder in Malibu is worse. Oh my word, Malibu is a magnitude of worse that’s indefinable.
Murder in Malibu is another good one.
Well, let’s just say that your side-splitting & insightful review is infinitely more entertaining than this squirm-fest. *Shudder* Thanks for bringing the wise & the funny!
Thanks Ellen, you’re lovely!
Silence of the Lambs.