Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I'm sending this out to a fellow crossover enthusiast named Gordon. He's seen several of the ABC TV movies about 'Columbo', but he apparently is too young to have seen the original run of the series from NBC. So to help him get started (Netflix online, Gordon!), here is a Super-Six list of my favorite episodes from the series as a whole.

My all-time favorite TV series is 'The Prisoner', so just for the opportunity to see Patrick McGoohan as the guest star would have been enough. But the episode (directed by McGoohan) is full of allusions to 'The Prisoner' - visual imagery referring to "#1", the design of McGoohan's windbreaker, the phrase "Be Seeing You".... Plus McGoohan's line readings are brilliantly off-kilter - just the way he says "I know!" is a pleasure.

This mostly has to do with Ruth Gordon as a sweet but crafty Agatha Christie type. But it also has an ingenious solution to the murder, worthy of the grande dame of mysteries.

This is the first - and best - of several episodes that played with the show's formula - Columbo in London! (There would also be Columbo on a cruise and Columbo in Mexico.) Now he was in Christie country, complete with a country manor setting, a wax museum, pubs, theatre in the West End, and a gentlemen's club which I've decided was the famed Diogenes Club from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Peter Falk did some location shooting in London, but most of the episode was shot in California with excellent British ex-pats providing support for Richard Basehart and Honor Blackman as the hammy Shakespearean murderers - Bernard Fox, John Williams, Ronald Long, Arthur Malet, and Wilfred Hyde-White.

(Having now seen John Fraser in an episode of 'The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes', I'll have to watch "Dagger Of The Mind" again to spot him. He's prominently listed in the end credits, but I just don't remember him in the episode.)

The relationship that grows between Columbo and the murderer, Adrian Carsini, culminating in that last visit to the winery is probably the best in the series. And Donald Pleasance as Adrian is so... well, endearing, that it took me many viewings to realize just how ruthless his crime was.

Again, an episode with Patrick McGoohan as the muderer, and the first of his four appearances. The great thing about his murderers is that each of them looked so different from each other. A problem I always had with the repeat performances by Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy, among others, is that - great as the actors were - how come Columbo never noticed their similarities? Also, this was a nice spin on the formula in which the murderer was undone by that for which he committed the crime. In this case, it was the traditions of the school and subsequent infractions.....

I'd say this was absolutely brilliant, but one thing mars it - that awful title.

This had the best capper of a revelation at the end since early episodes like "Short Fuse" and "Suitable For Framing". But best of all was the shout-out to the past - a mention of Chief Superintendent Inspector Dirk of Scotland Yard from "Dagger Of The Mind", and an uncredited appearance by Bruce Kirby. He was probably appearing as Sgt. Kramer, now promoted.

This is the only episode of the ABC run to make the list and it mostly had to do with the very inventive script by William Read Woodfield.

'Columbo' is in my top five TV series of all time*, so it was tough to limit this list to my self-proscribed "Super Six". But here's a Top Ten list of runners-up:

"Requiem For A Falling Star"
"Forgotten Lady"
"Uneasy Lies The Crown"
"Prescription: Murder"
"Negative Reaction"
"Etude In Black"
"A Stitch In Crime"
"Candidate For Crime"
"Mind Over Mayhem"
"Lovely But Lethal"

Just one more thing......

I'd watch any 'Columbo' episode over and over again, but I will admit some of them are not that strong. These would be at the bottom of the collection:

"Dead Weight"
"An Old-Fashioned Murder"
"Make Me A Perfect Murder"
"Lady In Waiting"
"Ransom For A Dead Man"
"No Time To Die"
"Columbo And The Murder Of A Rock Star"
"Murder In Malibu"
"Columbo Likes The Night Life"

Sadly, that was Columbo's swan song.

* Okay, just in case you were interested in my Top Five TV series:
'The Prisoner'
'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'
'The Dick Van Dyke Show'
'Doctor Who'


Brian Leonard said...

We need a DVD compilation...

PDXWiz said...

Way cool, Toby! Thanks for the shoutout. I'll keep those episodes in mind when I get around to watching Columbo. They sounds like a great bunch to look for.