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The Top 5 Episodes of Columbo
Just 5 more things...
Columbo is an amazing TV show, and it had a great run. But if you could only watch 5 episodes of the show, which should you watch? Well, after watching and rewatching the show, I have come up with 5 perfect episodes of Columbo that everyone needs to see.
At #5 is Season 4, Episode 4, “Troubled Waters”
Original Airdate: February 9, 1975
Lieutenant Columbo, and the as-ever unseen Mrs. Columbo set sail on a cruise to Acapulco, a trip she won in a raffle. But the vacation becomes a bus-man's holiday when our favorite detective finds an unexpected passenger on board...murder.
Hayden Danziger, played by Robert Vaughn, is a fellow traveler who, as a frequent solo sojourner of this specific ship, had an at-sea relationship with the boat's lounge singer. The diva attempts to blackmail Danziger to keep their affair a secret from his wealthy, older wife, also on-board, who will leave him in ruins if she learns of the infidelity. The singer's extortion scheme ends in her demise at her lover's lethal hands.
Danziger's cunning crime involves faking a heart attack and committing the killing while ostensibly in an infirmary bed. He attempts to frame the piano player, played by Dean Stockwell, but Danziger's scheming is thwarted when the ship's captain asks Columbo to investigate. Always on-duty, Columbo combats seasickness, to crack the case before they reach port and turn the matter over to the local authorities.
#4 is Season 3, Episode 4, “Double Exposure”
Original Airdate: December 16, 1973
Dr. Bart Keppel, played by Robert Culp, is a renowned figure in motivational research, who faces a predicament when a disgruntled client, Vic Norris, threatens to expose his unethical tactics. Keppel, who had secretly framed Norris with a compromising photo, devises a painstaking plan to eliminate his problem. He inserts subliminal images of drinks into a sales film, raises the room temperature, and feeds Norris salty caviar to induce thirst. During the screening, Keppel appears to narrate the script but relies on a recording, providing him an alibi while he commits the crafty crime.
Suspecting Keppel's guilt, Columbo methodically maneuvers through a maze of misdirection as he investigates Norris's murder. Meanwhile, Roger, a theater employee, knows about the subliminal cuts and attempts to blackmail Keppel for money. Keppel kills Roger, but Columbo remains resolute. By using a subliminal cut of himself investigating Keppel's office, Columbo tricks Keppel into revealing his guilt. Keppel's own technique exposes him, leading to his ultimate downfall.
#3 Season 7, Episode 1, “Try and Catch Me”
Original Airdate: November 21, 1977
Elderly Abigail Mitchel, played by Ruth Gordon, is a world-renowned mystery writer. She suspects her nephew-in-law, Edmund, in the dubious demise of her niece, Phyllis, whose death was ruled as accidental by the police.
Seeking self-styled justice, Abigail tricks Edmund into a false sense of security by making him her sole heir. She then lures him into her large walk-in safe and slams the door shut, leaving him to a slow death-by-suffocation in pitch blackness. Abigail assumes the police will rule Edmund’s death just another accident, but she didn’t count on the astute analysis of Lt. Columbo.
Despite the semi-plausible theories of the crime offered by the helpful mystery-writer, Columbo eventually solves the case by connecting clues left by Edmund in the safe. The most incriminating is the title page of Abigail's latest manuscript, which Edmund altered to read “I was murdered…by Abigail Mitchell.” “Deathbed testimony,” concludes Columbo.
In the end, Abigail beseeches Columbo for leniency, but he holds firm, placing her in cuffs. Though crestfallen by her capture, she praises Columbo for his skill, noting that if he had been the one to investigate her niece’s death that “none of this need ever have happened.”
#2 Season 3, Episode 2, “Any Old Port in a Storm”
Original Airdate: October 7, 1973
Celebrated vintner, Adrian Carsini, played by Donald Pleasence, has yet another run-in with his half-brother, Rick, over their shared wine-making business. This battle centers on Rick’s announcement that he’s selling the land on which the vineyard is situated in order to pay his gambling debts.
Desperate to prevent this, Adrian knocks Rick out, drags him to his private wine cellar, ties him up, turns off the cellar’s ventilation system, and leaves him to die of suffocation. He then jets off to New York. When Adrian returns home, he finds Rick dead, dresses him in scuba gear, and dumps him in the ocean to create the appearance of an accidental death.
Our favorite disheveled detective is called to resolve the riddle. Several suspicious circumstances bother Columbo from the beginning. He conducts various interviews, considers clues, and even develops some expertise in wine.
He utilizes this knowledge to set a trap for the killer at a fancy dinner where, in cahoots with the restaurant, Columbo gets Adrian to drink a wine -- nabbed by the lieutenant from the vintner’s own private cellar -- that has spoiled due to exposure to excessive heat. Columbo makes the point that while Adrian had been in New York, L.A. had hit 109 degrees.
Knowing that Adrian realizes his precious wine collection has gone bad, Columbo lies in wait at the shore, where the man will surely go to dump the soured stock. Carsini does not disappoint and is found chucking bottles into the sea.
Confronted with Columbo’s evidence, Adrian confesses to his brother’s murder without remorse. Still, the always-compassionate cop feels sorry for the man who has lost everything and treats him to a fine dessert wine before hauling him off to the hoosegow.
#1 Season 1, Episode 1, “Murder by the Book”
Original Airdate: September 15, 1971
This episode, the very first in the Columbo series, premiered on September 15, 1971, and was directed by a 24-year-old Steven Spielberg.
Ken Franklin, played by Jack Cassidy, and Jim Ferris, played by Martin Milner, are writing partners who collaborated on 15 books in the "Mrs. Melville" mystery series. However, for the last several years, Jim’s been doing all the writing as Ken has struggled with writer's block. Frustrated with doing all the work and only getting half the credit, Jim decides to go solo. Ken, who does not like this at all, decides on murder.
Ken persuades his partner to accompany him on a trip to his lakeside cabin. Upon reaching the cabin (with a stop at LaSanka’s grocery store), Ken gets Jim to call his wife, Joanna, to tell her he’ll be working late at the office. Then, Ken shoots Jim dead, while he’s still on the line with Joanna. Believing her husband was in his office at the time, she unwittingly sets up a perfect alibi for the killer.
Ken dumps Jim’s body and spins a yarn implicating the Mafia for his writing partner’s death. Complicating matters is Lilly LaSanka, who runs the grocery store near the cabin where the crime was actually committed. She is the only person who knows that the murder victim was in the vicinity, and uses this knowledge in an attempt to blackmail Ken. This does not go well for her in the end.
But Ken has a weightier worry than a witness, Lt. Columbo. As is his way, the trenchcoat-clad master of deduction, feigns ignorance to gain the upper hand, as the crafty killer feeds him clues pointing to the true nature of the crime.
Where can I watch Columbo?
I hope you enjoyed this list and that it leads you to watch the entire series. You can stream the show currently on Tubi, Peacock, and Freevee. If you prefer physical media, you can pick up the complete series on DVD or Blu-Ray.
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