Death Lends a Hand - Columbo Podcast Episode 2

Episode 2 – Death Lends a Hand

After a strong opening episode Columbo returned with a new case in Death Lends a Hand. This was the second of Season 1’s seven episodes and pitted Columbo against a private detective in a twist on the traditional relationship between killer and investigator. In this show Gerry and Iain look at the key components and moments of Death Lends a Hand.

 

 

Columbo shared centre stage in this episode with Robert Culp‘s Investigator Brimmer (first name unknown!). There was a similarly tight group of critical participants this time as there had been in Murder by the Book: Pat Crowley as the unfortunate Lenore Kennicut; Ray Milland as her widower, Arthur Kennicut and Brett Halsey as golf pro Ken Archer.

 

Though he doesn’t have the silver screen resumé of episode 1’s director, Steven Spielberg, Bernard Kowalski was nonetheless a prolific contributor to both Columbo and to television of the era more generally. Creators Richard Levinson and William Link were the writers of this episode – the only time in the show’s run that they are credited in this way.

 

During the podcast Iain promised a little more information on The Ray Milland Show. This was a sitcom which originally went by the title Meet Mr. McNutley and ran for two years on CBS. The Internet Archive has some footage from the original radio simulcast of the show’s first season, which is worth a look if you have an interest in Milland and his work.

 

In this episode Gerry and Iain posed a new challenge to listeners – does anybody know how many times Robert Culp made a Columbo appearance? If you think you do then please, as ever, use the comments below, or contact us on Twitter where we’re still @columbopodcast.

 

Death Lends a Hand was released in 1971. It is 76 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.

 

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast team develops, produces and promotes The Columbo Podcast.

  • digger01

    Great discussion once again. Gerry, you’re very insightful about the nuances of the show, and it’s fun to listen to Iain’s observations as someone watching Columbo for the first time.

    I have to agree with you both about the unusual “reflective glasses” technique used immediately following the murder, when we see Robert Culp’s actions reflected in his eyeglasses. The first time I saw it my reaction was much like Iain’s… I thought it was pretty bizarre.

    But I agree with Gerry in that I kind of like it now. It’s an unique way for the director to achieve a split-screen effect. However, I think it’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t be used more than once. It’s too distracting to be used as an ongoing technique.

    Thanks for another great episode!

    • Thanks for the feedback digger, much appreciated. Hope you enjoy the next few episodes just as much!

    • Ian Baxter

      Re: glasses – Looking back now it is good to see that it wasn’t an over used technique, and I agree that in revisiting this episode it has become a feature, almost quirk, and I’ve really come to appreciate it.

  • Richard

    Nice range of discussion points in this podcast, some I hadn’t considered before. I like Iain’s newbie point of view (still staggered he hasn’t seen these, esp as his mate is SO into Columbo). I look back on these early episodes, already knowing and loving Columbo’s character, and smile more than, I think, Iain does – Iain’s just getting to know him.
    One point I felt you missed ~ Her head smashed the glass table but the only laceration was on her face! No glass in hair, folds of her clothes, embedded in skull, nothing. Seemed odd to me.
    FYI – Arthur Kennicut’s mansion was also used in the film ‘The Bodyguard’ as Whitney Houston’s character’s home.
    I like these podcasts a lot.

    • Thanks Richard. That’s a great little factoid about the Bodyguard. Now that you mention it, it does seem familiar!

  • Largo

    Greetings from the Midwest, USA!

    Blast — you guys are dissing one of my favorite episodes from the first season of Columbo. : (

    Once Columbo learns that Brimmer is volunteering his services and that he has done previous work for Kennicut, his suspicions are aroused. It is here that Columbo feigns interest in palm reading, etc., and he then uses this as a ruse to feel the unique shape of the two sharp stones on Brimmer’s ring — and thus, he links it to the cut on Lenore’s cheek.

    He then investigates the other possible suspect: the golf pro, Ken Archer. Archer is quickly eliminated as Lenore’s murderer and Columbo trusts his instincts as a homicide detective and then focuses on Brimmer. This isn’t “magic” — this is the brilliant Columbo deductive technique at work. Sure there are the other usual script contrivances here, but I feel that none of these are as egregious as they are in the episodes “Dead Weight” and “Short Fuse.”

    But maybe I’m a bit biased. “Death Lends A Hand” originally aired on my twelfth birthday and I thoroughly enjoyed this Columbo episode back then and I still do, eh. And that includes that funky 70s optical involving Brimmer’s glasses. Sure, it dates this episode a bit, but there’s nothing confusing here: for one only has to pick just one eyeglass lens to watch to get the whole cover-up sequence.

    However, let’s just agree to just disagree on this particular Columbo episode. Thanks for another fascinating podcast!

    • I have to agree on the ring and his feigning palm reading. Also, what is a better way to pretend that you’re not the brightest bulb in the box, then to use an outlandish excuse such as that? The thing about Columbo is how he uses others’ prejudices as a weapon. He prefers to make them think he’s either fawning over them, or simply unintelligent. This makes tripping them up with his “just one more thing” even more revealing. They are simply stunned that he could know what he knows. The stunned look is a dead giveaway.

      I also liked the glasses. However, I can understand how younger people would not like it because the cinematics (I know that’s not the right word, but I can’t think of the TV term right off hand) in the 70s was very different. That would have been considered very cool back then. Remember those were the years of the American hippies who looked for visuals. I just thought it was very neat to see all of that, but I can see how some may think it off-putting.

      Another great podcast! I truly enjoy it all. 🙂

      • Thanks Magnolia, much appreciated. It does seem the glasses are more popular than not!

  • A $10000 salary in 1971 would equate to a little under $58500 in US dollars. Which seems plausible for a police lieutenant.

    • Thanks Oxfordsplice. That makes sense to us – if you stay with us until season 2 this is addressed more explicitly in another episode!

  • saltyessentials

    Nice job, again, guys. This is a fun episode, but certainly has its problems.

    I remember being flabbergasted the first time I saw it, with Columbo tampering with the car’s exhaust pipe and placing a contact lens in the trunk. Not too hard to imagine Brimmer’s lawyer having the case dismissed, and stringing Columbo up on charges himself!

    As for Columbo “magically” zeroing in on a suspect with no apparent evidence to assist him: Definitely some episodes do better than others at offering clues for him, and the audience, to follow. I’ve decided (for my own peace of mind) that Columbo is not only very observant, obsessive with details, and a talented investigator, but highly intuitive as well.

    A quick look-up on Google tells me intuition is “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning; a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.” I’ve happily assigned Columbo this ability and use it to suspend my disbelief in some of the more muddled episodes.

    That being said, high amounts of intuition can’t explain plot gaffes like having Columbo tamper with private property and falsify evidence. If old Brimmer hadn’t confessed, he’d have probably walked away from the (mis)trial a free man, and Columbo would’ve been stripped of his rank and writing traffic tickets for the next few years.

    Says me, who’s learned all he knows about the US legal system by watching television mysteries….

  • Comes With Wings

    Has no one answered the Robert Culp question yet? He was in four episodes of Columbo: three as the killer (“The Most Crucial Game” and “Double Exposure” were the other two), and one in which he was the father of one of the killers (“Columbo Goes to College”).

    I’ve just recently started listening to the podcast (after being referred here by the “other” Columbo podcast) and I’m enjoying it immensely. The fact that you’re covering the episodes in the order they aired (outside of the two pilots) gives you a leg up on the other show in my opinion, but that could be my latent OCD talking.

    Cheers from Texas, gents!

    • Thanks Wings. We got a couple of people on Twitter having a go at the answer, but nobody got the trick question – the answer is 5, because we included the episode of Mrs. Columbo that he appeared in.

      Bit mean, sorry!

      Hope you keep enjoying the show and looking forward to your contributions.

  • Marcol

    Regarding the glasses. Culp was best known for his show I spy. When I saw the double images in the glasses it reminded me of the beginning of I spy where culp lights a cigarette with a bomb in the upper frame while looking down on the scenes from that weeks show as they stream in the frame below him. So I thought it was kind of a call back insider thing for Culp. I’m really a big fan of columbo and am enjoying your podcasts, especially since I’ve seen all of the episodes 20 times each. 🙂

    • Thanks Marcol. Glad you’re enjoying the podcasts! I’ve not seen I Spy, but that sounds entirely plausible.

      • Largo

        I Spy (1965-68) starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as secret agents Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott — who both traveled the world using the covers of a Davis Cup tennis player and a sports trainer, respectively. This series was produced by Sheldon Leonard and it aired on the NBC Network. Here is the series opening titles sequence with Earle Hagen’s dynamic theme tune, courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy —

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vW8gS1dNS_M

  • Marcol

    Another thing worth mentioning about this episode is Kennecut’s mansion. It is probably the most used location in California. Most famously, it is the house in The Godfather where Woltz entertains Tom Hagen then wakes up with the horse head in his bed.

    • Can’t remember if we mention it in the podcast, but I definitely remember reading that bit of trivia at the time. Nice building!

  • Tim S. Turner

    You mentioned not knowing Brimmer’s first name. I believe it was Simon.

  • Almondbun

    When you think about how the murderer was catched by Columbo (missing contact lenses) the glasses split screen scene gets a kind of foreshadowing meaning. Just a thing I noticed watching the episode for the 100th time.