Columbo’s third (and final) adventure outside of Los Angeles, A Matter of Honor saw him investigating murder by bull during a supposed holiday south of the border.
Placed in confrontation with national hero Don Luis Montoya – a matador of legendary status – the Lieutenant must battle an opponent who is bigger than God in his homeland, while also overcoming his own lack of understanding of the supposedly noble art of bullfighting.
Although generally considered a lesser effort by the series’ 70s standards, A Matter of Honor still predictably contains a number of cracking moments that ensure ample viewer reward. But what are its bestest bits? Let’s saddle up and see…
5. Columbo’s calf exercises
While taking a gentle stroll around the stunning Montoya estate, Columbo is given an almighty fright by a breakaway bull. Moving like a man possessed, Columbo saves his own skin by hurdling a low wall – only then to fully appreciate how adorably teeny and unthreatening the baby bull is, as he is jeered by walking stereotype Miguel.
Columbo has never moved faster than this under his own steam. Heck, he rarely moves this swiftly when he’s at the wheel of the Peugeot! It all adds to a delightful little moment from an episode in low on genuine highlights.
4. Creative book-peeping
Columbo’s mile-wide devious streak is as clear as day as he dupes his chief suspect into letting him get hold of some crucial intel to strengthen his case.
Having found evidence of bull tranquilliser in murder victim Hector Rangel’s bloodstream, the Lieutenant begs to get a glance at Montoya’s accounts book, which chronicles the purchase of such potentially dangerous products.
Afforded the privilege he seeks by his host, Columbo immediately betrays the trust placed in him and flips further into the book to get a sight of the most recent entries. There he finds what he’s looking for: the last month’s accounts are complete and were signed off by Montoya three days before Hector was fatally gored. Why, then, did the Don claim that Hector had requested extra time to work on the books on the day of his death? Either Montoya turned a blind eye to Hector’s blatant lies, or he is lying himself!
For the first time, Montoya properly loses his cool. He rages against Columbo’s lack of appreciation for the concept of honour, and icily ejects the detective from his premises in classic fashion: “My courtesy has been rewarded with accusation. I must ask you to leave my house and not return.”
A great moment because it marks that the game has changed. Columbo isn’t trying to disguise his intent any more. Montoya is in his sights and not even a legendary matador is going to be able to escape his inexorable pursuit of justice.
3. The low-speed fender-bender
The scurrilous stereotypes come thick and fast during Columbo’s episode introduction, when a gentle collision between his Peugeot and a parked car results in half the town thronging around the bewildered holidaymaker.
The driver of the stationary vehicle lies back and pretends to have broken his neck, while a passenger wrings her hands and demands “dinero” from Columbo to make amends for this outrage. Heavy-handed law enforcement and traffic officials emerge out of nowhere to seize his ID and before the Lieutenant can say “Ay caramba!” his car is being towed away and he believes himself placed under arrest.
Luckily Columbo’s ID is his path to salvation. Hero-worshipped by the local police chief after this stunning work in wrapping up the cruise ship murder in Troubled Waters a year earlier, Commandante Sanchez will speed up the paperwork on Columbo’s car if he’ll agree to help him investigate a tragic death at the Montoya Ranch. Left with little choice, the Lieutenant signs on and heads off to a date with destiny.
2. The honourable choice
I’m not a great fan of this episode’s gotcha (Columbo risking his chief suspect’s life is a little too hard core for my liking), but Montoya’s ultimate decision to choose honour ahead of vengeance gave the legendary matador a suitably noble exit.
Visibly seething after a public humiliation, Montoya give every impression of a man out for blood as he stalks toward the Lieutenant with a face like thunder and a deadly estoque in hand. It’s one of those rare occasions when Columbo himself actually looks like he believes he’s in trouble.
However, rather than run his adversary through, Montoya decides against making a bad situation worse. Instead of wrapping the sword around Columbo’s insides, he wraps it in his muleta and hands both over to the policeman: a clear and public sign of the respect he holds for the man who has brought his world crashing down. We see in this moment that Montoya is not entirely irredeemable and he is, at the last, a man of honour.
1. The police bromance
Not a single scene, more an episode-long love-in during which the bonds of respect and friendship between Columbo and Sanchez naturally and enjoyably grow.
Columbo is the more dominant figure throughout, mentoring Sanchez and providing the inspiration and guidance he needs to first accept Montoya’s guilt and then play an active support role in closing the case.
Instead of a lazy and corrupt stereotype, Sanchez is a good-natured, honest family man, who is keen to do his duty and learn from the best. He’s not unlike Columbo in many ways, and certainly wily enough to keep the Lieutenant around long enough to help him make the arrest that will have the whole of Mexico talking.
It’s an impressive performance from Pedro Armendáriz Jr, who gives us one of the most likable and believable support stars from the entire series. And for once, Columbo interacts with a police counterpart who’s not a bungling oaf. Winning!
Instead of a lazy and corrupt stereotype, Sanchez is a good-natured, honest family man, who is keen to do his duty and learn from the best.
Well muchachos, that’s it for today. But before I grab my bottle of mescal and head off for a siesta in a field, don’t be afraid to check out my full review of A Matter of Honor right here. You can also find out where Luis Montoya ranks in the sartorial stakes in this list of best-dressed Columbo killers.
Until next time, adios!