Columbo: Season Two (Part 2)

Concluding our look at Columbo’s second season. Part one is here.

“Requiem for a Falling Star” by Jackson Gillis

Former movie queen Nora Chandler (Anne Baxter) once produced a movie and did a lot of creative accounting while doing it. Gossip columnist Jerry Parks (Mel Ferrer) knows too much about it; Nora sets a deathtrap…

In many ways this is a typical Columbo, with a perfect crime and several plot twists before the killer is arrested, but somehow there’s less to chew on than in most episodes. I think it’s because there’s nothing really new here – the murder isn’t particularly ingenious, and the twists were all pretty familiar ones, even on TV, by 1973. It adds up to an acceptable, forgettable outing.

“A Stitch in Crime” by Shirl Hendryx

Dr. Barry Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy), heart surgeon, knows he could really go places with his research if only his superior, the eminent Dr. Edmund Heidemann (Will Geer), weren’t holding him back with his conservative approach. When Heidemann himself needs a cardiac operation, Mayfield sabotages the procedure so that the patient will die in a few days, apparently of natural causes. Nurse Sharon Martin (Anne Francis) catches on to what Mayfield is doing, so now he has another murder to plot…

It’s interesting that several of the best Columbos were written by authors who never did another episode. “A Stitch in Crime” is one of them. While the medical background is vital to the plot, it never gets confusing, and is the source of several ingenious clues. And the way Columbo springs the final trap on Mayfield gives us one of the show’s cleverest endings.

And a word about the performances of Falk and Nimoy. For once, Columbo is up against an opponent so very arrogant that at one point he actually shows a moment of raw anger. It’s a startling departure and would not work nearly as well if Nimoy hadn’t set it up by being wonderfully insufferable for the past hour.

“The Most Dangerous Match” by Jackson Gillis, based on a story by Gillis, Richard Levinson and William Link

Grandmasters Emmet Clayton (Laurence Harvey) and Tomlin Dudek (Jack Kruschen) are in Los Angeles to play for the chess championship of the world. The night before the opener, they bump into each other at a restaurant and play an impromptu game. Dudek wins so handily that Clayton decides to kill him in a staged accident rather than face humiliating public defeat…

This episode was clearly inspired by the 1972 chess championship contested by Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, but the fictional players in this episode are entirely original characters. Clayton is unusually nervous and insecure for a Columbo killer, and Dudek is a sympathetic and grandfatherly grandmaster who gets more screen time than most of the show’s murder victims. Clayton’s scheme and Columbo’s unraveling are both clever, but the ending is problematic. And since I can’t discuss it intelligently without committing a massive spoiler, I’m going to put the next paragraph in rot-13. 

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“Double Shock” by Steven Bochco, based on a story by Jackson Gillis, Richard Levinson and William Link

Identical twins Dexter and Norman Paris (Martin Landau) both need money and lots of it, but though we see one of them kill their wealthy uncle, we don’t know which one it was. Columbo faces his first (from our perspective) whodunit, albeit one with only two suspects.

A clever variation on what had already become the “classic” Columbo formula, and Martin Landau is good in any role, but the chain of reasoning that leads our hero to the solution isn’t one the viewer has a real chance to come up with independently.

So the second half of Columbo’s second season give us one gem, one bog-standard TV mystery, and two episodes that are flawed but still well worth watching.

To be continued with Season Three eventually…

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2 thoughts on “Columbo: Season Two (Part 2)

  1. About that moment in “A Stitch in Time” when Columbo “actually shows a moment of raw anger”. Until recently I also thought the detective was simply losing his cool, but the more I consider it the more I believe that Columbo’s outburst was part of his scheme to catch the killer; that is, to do the expected thing when in fact it was a component of Columbo’s plan all along. Is that being too clever?

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    1. With Columbo, you never really know, do you? And it’s true (spoiler here!) that what he says during his outburst has an effect on what happens later. However, my personal “head canon” is that this was one time when he did let his true feelings show. Another was at the end of “Murder, Smoke and Shadows” when he let Alex Brady know how much he detested him with a moment of naked gloating.

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