Short Fuse

Episode 6 – Short Fuse

The sixth episode of Columbo was titled Short Fuse and delivered an explosive twist to the typical methods used by killers on the show so far. This episode saw Columbo try to establish whether two victims were the unfortunate casualties of a car accident, or if something more sinister had occurred. In the podcast Gerry and Iain look at the dramatic events of Short Fuse and the issues raised by Columbo’s investigation.



There were five major cast members in this episode, but it was Roddy McDowall‘s Roger Stanford that dominated proceedings. McDowall’s career began, at the age of 10, in 1938 and by the time he appeared in Short Fuse he had been working consistently for over 30 years, long since having transitioned from child star to professional performer. McDowall is perhaps best known for his role as Cornelius in the original set of Planet of the Apes movies and by the time he appeared in Columbo had already been in two of these. As well as being nominated for a Golden Globe in 1964, McDowall won a Primetime Emmy in 1961 and has had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame since 1960.


Alongside McDowall’s energetic, ever-present Stanford there were supporting roles for Anne Francis as troubled secretary Valerie Bishop; James Gregory and Lawrence Cook as the victims – Stanford’s uncle David Buckner and his chauffuer-cum-P.I. Quincy; William Windom as Stanford Chemicals’ straight-laced vice chairman Everett Logan; and a great performance from Ida Lupino (noted in the New Yorker as one of the “great directors of the time” for her work in forties and fifties cinema) as Stanford’s Aunt Dori.


There were a few trivia questions in this week’s episode, so if anyone knows what the cablecar featured in Short Fuse serves in real life or has an idea what was meant by “better than the Borgia” then please feel free to comment here, or find us on Twitter at @columbopodcast.


The Columbo Podcast is widely available – on iTunes, Stitcher, tunein, Pocket Casts or pretty much wherever you choose to receive and manage your podcasts. If you enjoy the show it would be greatly appreciated if you consider leaving ratings and reviews on these sites – particularly iTunes – as that can make a big difference to growing the podcast’s audience.


Short Fuse was released in 1972. It is 75 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

    Checking in from Minnesota in the U.S. Thanks for another great episode!

    I agree with Gerry and Iain that this isn’t one of the stronger episodes. It is entertaining but it lacks a tightly-written script.

    As far as “better than the Borgias”… the only thing I can come up with is that because the Borgias were known as terrible people, it is like saying “I might be a bad person, but at least I’m not as bad at the Borgias”. No idea if this is what they meant, though.

    Great job once again… Looking forward to the next episode!

    • Thanks digger. One theory we have is that if the Borgias were known for schemes he maybe felt his was a particularly good one.

      • digger01

        That makes perfect sense. Thanks!!

  • Peter

    I think the reason why I dislike this episode is that I did not find the villain interesting. The other villains were more interesting, had charm,had more depth and were more pleasurable to watch in their interactions with Columbo. Unlike the other villains, Roger was simply irritating and creepy. I also think given modern sensitivities given the age we live in, a car bombing is particularly disturbing.
    Great job again. I particularly like when you throw in audio from the show. Also love the background on the guest actors/actresses. Show is very nostalgic for me as I watched them when originally aired during my childhood.

  • Largo

    Checking in from the state just south of digger01: Iowa. Thank you so much for another great podcast!

    I totally agree that this episode seemed rushed during the scripting process. This particular show is really a hot mess! Your info on “Short Fuse” being an extra episode added to the schedule is very interesting. The two other NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie series — McCloud and McMillan & Wife — also had seven episodes each during this same broadcast season.

    I have nothing against Roddy McDowall as an actor, but his Roger Stanford is one of the most irritating and annoying — not to mention most self-incriminating — Columbo villains of all time. Roger is definitely a creeper and I concur with your theory that he must be on drugs. It’s the only logical explanation for his erratic behavior.

    I totally agree with Peter: I really enjoy the audio sound bites from Columbo that you’ve included within these most recent podcasts. Please continue to add these in whenever you can. Speaking of audio, your accents are great and this Midwesterner from the USA can understand both of you just fine.

    One quick note about James Gregory: he played General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Unfortunately, this is the one original “Apes” film where Roddy McDowall doesn’t portray Cornelius. Be seeing you!

    • Peter

      James Gregory’s other great role was Senator John Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate.

      • Largo

        Most definitely, Peter! That scene with Iselin being “inspired” by the label on the Heinz ketchup bottle and the following cut of him saying, “There are exactly 57 communists that have infiltrated our government” (or words to that effect) is priceless! And thanks for reminding me that I still need to get this film classic on blu-ray.

    • He was also quite well known for his turn as Inspector Luger on Barney Miller. Great comic timing.

  • Richard

    Another great podcast.
    I agree with Peter & Largo, the audio sound bites are a nice addition. Columbo comes out with some terrific lines throughout the series (as well as some of the characters too) and a treat to hear them here.
    I’ve had a look at Fade Into Murder and it isn’t the same house as the Aunts in this episode.

    FYI ~ The cable car is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and still in use, but with modern cable-cars.

  • Thanks Dylan. Sorry, your comment got stuck in the mod queue because of the link!

  • I am really enjoying your podcast (working my way through the episodes). This particular episode has always been problematic for me, mainly because the Roddy McDowall character seems to be so very unlikeable and also because he seems to be borderline crazy.

    What I did want to say has to do with your comments about how Columbo seems to work on instinct. I think what it is is that this is a character who is very observant and he is quickly and quietly looking at things overall. When he comes across bits that do not fit is when he stops. If he can find an explanation, he moves on (there’s a great example of this in an episode called A Friend in Deed). The problem for most of the murderers is that either their explanation does not satisfy or it points to even more bits that are out of place.

    • I think that’s definitely true. It’s probably fair to say that some episodes do a better job than others of demonstrating that process though.

  • CacacataCarta

    Thanks, Iain and Gerry for another great podcast! The background you provided on this episode helps explain why it’s a weak link in an otherwise strong first season. Do you think the mention of Roger’s parents dying in a freak explosion may be a hint that Roger had committed murder before the murders that are the subject of the episode?

  • Ian Baxter

    Found these quotes from Roddy McDowell about playing this role in Short Fuse…

    “He (Roger Stanford) was evil as all get-out. He was joyously evil. It was appetizing to play. The role could only work if it was done on a high level of enjoyment. He loved being this son of a bitch. And I loved working with Ida Lupino and Jimmy Gregory.”

    “Villains are always great fun to play, and these were very juicy roles. And remember, the villain got to be on camera and carrying on for twenty minutes before Columbo even showed up. Columbo was like Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was very rewarding.”

    Unfortunately I think that in portraying Roger he tended to crossed a line from joyous to maniacal. However, all said it was an enjoyable and energetic episode.

  • Daniel T. Lappen

    Despite a great cast one of my least favorite episodes. Roddy is one of my favorite actors, talented and a nice guy, (loved his Bookworm) but there is nothing special with his portrayal of the murderer. The best Columbos are where the murderer uses his specialized knowledge to try to foil the detective, a la the Magician or the Psychiatrist. But Roddy is just too much of spoiled hippy to have ever had the discipline to earn all those degrees he speaks of. He should have started out more bookish and nerdy and evolved into a swinger like Susan Clarke in Lady In Waiting. And that SHIRT!!!

  • Tim S. Turner

    Wow. I guess I’m in the minority. I loved McDowell in this episode. He’s a gleefully evil character who’s fun to watch. I will agree that the script could’ve been tighter, but it’s a lot of fun, especially the ending.

  • Abigail

    I’ve just discovered your podcast today and am listening not in chronological order but just dipping in to episodes I’ve seen recently. I always remember this episode fondly as I love the denouement in the cable car, but I suppose the episode as a whole is not that strong. Although having looked at some of the comments for other episodes, it seems I love some endings that other people think are terrible (blind twin brother, killer Rosebud dogs etc.) so maybe I’m just easily pleased…

    • Largo

      Not to worry, Abigail! Although many of us will disagree on various aspects within the episodes, we can all agree that Columbo is a classic that deserves revisiting again and again. Be seeing you! 🙂

    • Glad you’ve found us, Abigail. Room for all opinions here!

    • resedaman

      I’m with you.

  • resedaman

    Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs, California, USA

    New to the podcast so maybe this is answered but the boys queried the location of the tram, this is per IMBD. I rode it once while visiting relatives in PS. I heard the dining room upstairs is the scene in North by Northwest where Eva Marie Saint pretends to shoot Cary Grant, though it’s supposed to be Mount Rushmore

  • resedaman

    Columbo”s reaction to riding the tram is classic LOL Columbo