Mind over Mayhem

Episode 21 – Mind over Mayhem

The twenty-first episode of Columbo was titled Mind over Mayhem and was the sixth episode of the show’s third season. A robotic accomplice clears the way for a genius to commit a brutal murder. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at a battle of two great minds and analyse the crucial mistakes that set Columbo on the right track.



Oscar winners have a habit of showing up in Columbo so it is no surprise that Mind over Mayhem‘s principal villain, Dr Marshall Cahill, was portrayed by an actor with that level of recognition. Indeed, José Ferrer was a three-time Academy Award nominee, winning in 1951 for his leading role in Cyrano de Bergerac, not to be confused with the classic Channel Islands-based detective show Bergerac. Ferrer was also prominent in Lawrence of Arabia and later in his career found recognition for his performance as Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV in 1984’s Dune.


Key supporting roles were provided by Lew Ayres as Cahill’s victim, the very righteous Dr Howard Nicholson; Jessica Walter as his wife, then widow, Margaret Nicholson and Robert Walker Jr. as Cahill’s plagiarist son, Neil. Lou Wagner and Arthur Batanides played small, but crucial roles as Cahill’s assistant ‘Ross’ and garage mechanic ‘Murph’ respectively.


Stealing the show, arguably, were Lee Montgomery as boy genius Steve Spelberg and Robby the Robot as Cahill’s accomplice, MM7.


Alf Kjellin directed the first of his two Columbo episodes, working with legendary writer Steven Bochco, about who little more needs to be said!


Pleas add your thoughts on any aspect of Mind over Mayhem below, 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.


Mind over Mayhem was released in 1974. It is 73 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.

  • Largo

    I sure hope that all of you have completed your homework assignment for this week! Your assignment was to watch the science-fiction film classic, Forbidden Planet (1956), in preparation before viewing the current Columbo episode, “Mind Over Mayhem.” If you did not complete this particular assignment, all of the following will happen: (1) you will not get the full 3D effect when viewing this week’s Columbo episode; (2) you will not receive a passing grade [that would be impossible] on the pop quiz [surprise, surprise] that will be given here shortly; (3) I will not treat you to one of my many ’Ding-A-Ling’ ice cream bars; and (4) you will most definitely not collect $200 past ‘Go.’ That is all.

    • Wait, one of those actors looks familiar…the metal one…

      • Largo

        Well, of course he looks familiar! But what I’m wondering about is who exactly is that chick in the one-piece swimsuit that he’s carrying? 😉

        • Largo, thought I’d share this with you. I watched a wonderful film called ‘A Portrait of Jennie’ last week and guess who was in it as a teenager in an art gallery…? Anne Francis! A fleeting (non-speaking) performance, but it was her alright.

    • Ian Baxter

      Hmmm… so Robby, doubtless inspired by meeting our own Columbo, and after being reunited with his legs, went on to try out for the part of Sherlock Holmes…

    • Well I did my homework. Is my ding-a-ling on the way to good old Blighty?

  • Largo

    All in all, I’d rather be discussing the science-fiction film classic, Forbidden Planet (1956), but I had better get this week’s Columbo episode out of the way first, so here goes:

    “Mind Over Mayhem” — or as I sarcastically call it “Where Did Robby the Robot’s Legs Go, Dammit?” — is definitely the weakest link of the third season of Columbo. According to Alfred Hitchcock, the worst sin that can ever be committed within the world of entertainment is to bore your audience. “Mind Over Mayhem” is just plain boring to me. In my opinion, there really isn’t anything in this particular Columbo Mystery Movie that is all that compelling to me and there are no performances that truly stand out or are very riveting. To make matters even worse, this episode’s plot is rather mediocre and totally predictable and the story contains no real twists or surprises.

    All of the actors involved give it the ‘old college try’ but the incredibly dull and unimaginative script (not to mention the equally mundane prop and set designs) sabotages everyone involved here. There seems to be a strange lethargy to the whole enterprise here and I blame the script and the director for this. Even my other least favorite third season Columbo episode, “Lovely But Lethal,” generates more electricity than this monotonous “Mind Over Mayhem” mystery movie. ’Tis a pity — plus it’s a real shame that this episode had to ruin a solid consecutive run of excellent third season episodes. But not to worry, the two episodes that follow “Mind Over Mayhem” are among the finest Columbo Mystery Movies produced for the third season.

    What in the Sam Hill is Robby the Robot even doing in this Columbo production? If you’re going to use this classic 1950s robot, which is one of the greatest science-fiction icons of all time, then kindly use the entire robot suit, dammit! I remember reading in a genre magazine many years ago that the producers put the kibosh on Robby the Robot’s original legs being utilized because they actually thought that Robby would look “too cute” when placed next to Peter Falk. So that black steel drum-like pedestal contraption that replaced Robby the Robot’s actual legs is there solely for the purpose of not stealing away Columbo’s own “cute factor” or something.

    This type of Hollywood logic is so totally ridiculous that one might be forced to believe that drugs were influencing the production staff within the confines of NBC and/or Universal Studios. It would begin to help explain this bizarre decision for the evisceration of poor Robby. Nevertheless, in the end this rather sinister and completely gratuitous option that was chosen by the Columbo producers is utterly unforgivable.

    But do you know what I say right now? I say let’s celebrate Robby the Robot and his original full design! Moreover, let’s celebrate Robby the Robot’s legs, dammit! Below you’ll find several publicity pictures of Robby the Robot that were taken during the production of MGM’s science-fiction epic Forbidden Planet (1956). Take a few minutes now and admire the exquisitely designed legs depicted here in this group of photographs. I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that the legs that are on display here are truly a sight to behold!

    [NOTE: All of the photographs that Largo uploads to The Columbo Podcast website are freely downloaded from the Internet and are copyrighted to their respective owners. These photographs are not to be used for personal gain and are provided by Largo for educational purposes only]

    • Peter

      Wow. Cannot believe how much leg the ladies are showing, especially since this is the 1950’s. Robby is a great icon. I also like the Lost in Space robot as well. I do think this is one of the weaker Columbo episodes from season 3 but still enjoy watching Jose Ferrer. Robert Walker could sure use a haircut! I do believe there is genuine pathos in this episode, and it touches on the timeless theme of sons trying to please their fathers. It is also one of the Columbo episodes that I have a vivid recollection of from my teenage years,especially the cigar sharing at the end.

      • Largo

        Hey there, Peter! Actually there’s only one woman in those photographs: the very lovely, Anne Francis, who portrayed Altaira in Forbidden Planet. Robby the Robot was designed by Robert Kinoshita, who also just happened to have designed Robot B9 of Lost In Space fame. Robert Kinoshita also designed the Jupiter II for this same Irwin Allen series. Pretty nifty, huh? 🙂

        • Peter

          You mean “our Ann Francis”! You are a great reference.

          • Largo

            Thank you very much, Peter! How about “our sweet Anne Francis?” You betcha!

    • CarlosMu

      Lethargy is the perfect word, this episode is all lethargy. Not even Neil’s amazingly loud hollering wakes anyone up.

      • Jeez, I hope you guys like the podcast better than you liked the show!

        • Largo

          That is guaranteed, bro! I’m really looking forward to the podcast tonight!

        • Peter

          No doubt will enjoy the podcast. I listen to it on my way home every Thursday night, then finish it after dinner. You guys are now part of my weekly routine.

          • Glad to hear it Peter. We’re delighted with all the support and encouragement we’re getting. Much appreciated.

        • CarlosMu

          Listening now! I actually like this episode, despite the robot and the hollering, I forgot why, maybe the podcast will remind me!

  • Largo

    Well, due to all of the e-mails and phone calls that I’ve been receiving of late, the Forbidden Planet pop quiz that I had planned to give tonight has been permanently postponed (sheesh, talk about howls of protest, eh — and I don’t know how they all found me — maybe it’s because I’m still on that blasted SPECTRE mailing list). Even the Columbo Podcast Team has expressed a certain level of annoyance with my recent activities on the discussion forum. It’s very clear now that I’ve overstayed my welcome here and so I bid you all a very fond adieu.

    • Gummo Marx

      Nonsense Largo, the Podcast boys speak fondly of you.

  • Gummo Marx

    To the question that gerry (or was it ian) brought up about why columbo’s release schedule was so erratic. Largo can correct me here but I recall this was a rotating schedule on ABC, the Mystery of the Week..sometimes it was McCloud, sometimes McMillan and Wife and sometimes Columbo (maybe there were others, too lazy to look it up.) I was little but i remember the theme song vividly. My parents would root for the episode to be Columbo and were disappointed when it was McCloud.

    • Peter

      The NBC Sunday Night Mystery Movie was a rotating line-up of McLeod, McMillan and Wife, Hec Ramsey and Columbo. IMO all 4 were quite good, with Columbo obviously being the best. Hec Ramsey only lasted two seasons due to a contract dispute involving the star Ricahrd Boone. I believe the them song, which was terrific, was composed by Henry Mancini.

  • Peter

    You made some good points at end of the podcast. The motive for murder was very strong. I also thought the plot in general was good, the actors strong and the motive as mentioned strong, but for some reason the whole was less than the individual parts. I don’t think the rapport between Columbo and Cahill was that strong,enjoyable or compelling. I think that is what the episode lacked.

    • Richard Hinton

      I agree – although I enjoyed the episode (and the Podcast) I thought the murder wasn’t planned well, the cover-up was weak, and clues etc unsurprising. The usual cat & mouse stuff seemed to be lacking and I didn’t get the ‘yes!’ I normally do from the gotcha.
      It seemed a rushed episode to include the theme of intelligence and Robby The Robot … Which they didn’t use to his full extent (voice, legs etc) OR the intelligence of Master Spelberg – I remember watching it for the first time and thinking there’s gonna be an opportunity for the kid to shine.
      Still, the Podcast was its usual high standard and the background noises fascinating (sirens, dogs etc) 🙂

  • Richard Hinton

    Not sure on this one, feel free to correct … Police notebooks

    I’ve always thought that Police notebooks, or other recording devices, have to adhere to rules regarding information and it’s storage. Dates, times, names, locations etc recorded being used as evidence in court, so needing a standard entry procedure. Also, that they have to be kept for a period of time for future reference. Columbo’s methods appear to be just for himself and like the way I’d do it … I suppose that’s the point, to make it more relatable to the viewer.

  • Richard Hinton

    I’ve got a pretty cool poster on my wall of different movie Robots, including Robby

    • Ian Baxter

      Been having fun trying to work these out, only recognised a handful, but great poster.

      • Richard Hinton

        It is a very hard task, I think even Largo would struggle to get them all!

        The company that makes them http://www.lastexittonowhere.com/ also has shirts with it on.

        • Largo

          This is Battleposter. I am a robot. My master, Supernerdloser — known here as “Largo” — recognizes all but one of these robots on the famous Richard Hinton’s robot poster. I will transmit my master’s reply:

          First Row (L-R): Gunslinger from Westworld, Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, Nomad from Star Trek, K-9 from Doctor Who, MechaKong from King Kong Escapes, Dewey from Silent Running, C-3PO from Star Wars.

          Second Row (L-R): Iron Giant from The Iron Giant, Robby from Forbidden Planet, MechaGodzilla from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, robot from batteries not included, Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still, Terminator T-800 skeleton chassis from The Terminator, ED-209 from RoboCop.


Third Row (L-R): robot from batteries not included, ???? , Maximilian from The Black Hole, R2-D2 from Star Wars, IG-88 droid from The Empire Strikes Back, Bender from Futurama, RoboCop from RoboCop.

          Fourth Row (L-R): Robot Maria from Metropolis, Twiki from Buck Rodgers In The 25th Century, Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1981), VINcent from The Black Hole, Terminator T-800 from The Terminator, WALL-E from WALL-E, Johnny-5 from Short Circuit.

          My master also has a postscript: ‘Where the heck are Robot B9 from Lost In Space, Rosie from The Jetsons and Crow or Tom Servo from MST-3K!??!’


[End of transmission]

          • Ian Baxter

            Mightily impressed. If you could just ask Battleposter to return Anne Francis, he was reportedly last seen carrying her off out the back door after delivering your message. 🙂

          • Largo

            This is Battleposter. I am a robot. It appears that you, Ian Baxter, are unfamiliar with the Three Laws of Robotics: your reply statement contains a violation of the First Robotic Law. For your edification, here are the Three Laws of Robotics:

            1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
            2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
            3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

            Although I was originally designed as a Battle Droid, I have since been redesigned and reprogrammed by my master, Supernerdloser — known here as “Largo” — to multitask as both a security robot and an automated forum poster on several online discussion forums. My master cannot devote his full attention to each and every one of these online forums in which he participates, so I give him assistance as needed to fulfill this obligation.

            Since forum posting is my primary function, I have complete access to all of my master’s computers and mobile devices. It is interesting that you, Ian Baxter, mentioned the actress known as Anne Francis, for that has been the subject of several e-mails that my master has been receiving in recent weeks. In fact, I’ve been ordered by my master to block the e-mail addresses of several scientists who have been attempting to contact my master concerning the cloning of this same Anne Francis — code name: “Altaira.” Even though my master is in desperate need of feminine companionship, and has at times cried out “Altaira” in his sleep, my master is a very highly ethical and moral human being who would refuse all unconscionable means of obtaining it.

            This lack of a female companion in my master’s life has been the source of several highly illogical statements and emotional outbursts from him such as: “My starship’s navigational computer cannot lock on to the coordinates for Planet Babe!” and “I’m a flaming heterosexual and I have yet to find a woman whose heart I can ignite!” Even though my master goes into frequent bouts of depression over this particular need, he is graced with what you humans call “a good sense of humor.” As an example of this good sense of humor when dealing with such a sore subject, I will play this accidental recording from a recent doctor’s appointment:

            [accessing iPod recording fragment — recording isolated — initiate playback]

            DOCTOR: “Are you currently sexually active?”
            LARGO: “No, I’m not, doctor.”
            DOCTOR: “Are you gay?”
            LARGO: “No, doctor. I’m morose.”

            [end of recording — stop playback — log out of forum]

          • Ian Baxter

            I think you are going to get on well with next weeks guest star ‘Tommy Brown’ 🙂

          • Richard Hinton

            Battleposter, you’ve made my day.

            I think we should do a Turing test or a ‘Bladerunner’ Voight Kampff examination on your master, because I have suspicions that he actually is a robot!

            Totally correct and VERY well done, superb list and knowledge – took me a while to get them all.

            Not sure why they doubled up on certain films when there are plenty of others to choose from, I suppose it’s about the robots and not the films, but it states that this is ‘Series 1’ so, hopefully, there’ll be another soon (Love MST-3K).

            (Very entertaining reply, loved it)

          • Largo

            This is Battleposter. I am a robot. I do not fully comprehend the meaning of the first sentence in your reply, famous Richard Hinton. However, through my limited understanding of English slang and popular metaphoric phrases, this sentence appears to signify a positive response. My master, Supernerdloser — known here as “Largo” — has programmed me to respond with: I am very glad to be of service to you.

            On the question of whether or not my master is a pure strain human: let me assure you that he indeed is quite human. So there is no need for any testing — although my master did grow visibly agitated at the mere mention of what you termed a “Voight Kampff examination.” My master then ran out of his study and shouted, ‘No tortoises baking in the hot sun and no boiled dog!’ over and over. But when I projected this image on the wall, my master appeared to calm down for some reason:

          • Richard Hinton

            The calming effect of Rachael is proof indeed, Supernerdloser is most definitely human … and one with an appreciation of the finer things in life.

            Speaking of which, I’ve got a nice Bladerunner set too …

          • I have a similar edition, and have framed the prints. Look wonderful.

          • Beautiful picture from a truly memorable movie.

  • Richard Hinton

    I was surprised Columbo didn’t ask Murph about the gas conversions being done on the car pool. Not sure how common they were but, I only heard about them in the early 80’s. Sure, there were gas powered vehicles, but car conversions were a rare thing. Columbo usually latches onto these novelties and thinks they’re “Terrific” … I suppose there was enough fascination with MM7.

  • Ian Baxter

    Very very enjoyable podcast, but not one of the better Columbo episodes…

    I think it is just because I don’t buy into the characters. I didn’t get any depth of relationship between them. Margaret Nicholson seems devoid of feeling or grief at her husbands brutal death (in fact no one seems particularly moved). Neil is a bit all over the place with an odd mixture of childlike insecurity, infatuation, deception/plagiarism and angry outbursts, I don’t warm to him at all.

    The child genius Steve is just too isolated and cliche to be believable, and ends up feeling as gimmicky as the robot. Dr Cahill, our murder, doesn’t live up to the billing. He is supposed to be intelligent but makes too many thoughtless mistakes and carries out a ill thought out crime.

    There is one exception to the problems with this cast, and it’s not Robbie the Robot. Peter Falk as Columbo is on good form. Ignoring the rather clumsy framing at the end, his interactions with each of the characters is spot on. He is the one believable character in amongst a bizarre group. He uses humour (the use of the tape machine for example), plays down his intelligence revealing his sharp mind at key moments, and shows a little bit of compassion. He even manages to make the most of having to work with dog.

    For me it is Falk who is continuing the good form of season 3. He is very watchable and he alone brings any sort of life to this episode.

    Thanks again for the podcast, my wife points out the irony that in our talking about her we have now adopted a huge Columbo trope. So in true Columbo style I can tell you that my wife is a big fan of your show, and you will never find out what she looks like. She blushed big time at your dedicated ‘murder’! Hilarious stuff in our family, thank you. 🙂

  • Nelson Heyward

    I personally really enjoyed this episode and indeed my favourite ever Columbo moment is when MM7 walks the dog, I agree that it was strange that Cahill set up brandy and cigars confusing, also the shoes marking the wall was a bit weird but other wise love this ep.

    Another great podcast guys cant wait for Swan Song definitely at very top of my fav/best episodes, on I side not cant believe Ian has never seen any of the Police Academy’s briiliant and so funny especially the earlier ones.

    Just one more thing! I love the Steven Spelberg very good and as you guys said probably a nod to his directoral peromance.

    • Ian Baxter

      Swan Song top of my list, looking forward to it

      • Nelson Heyward

        Tis a great episode don’t want to say much because of spoilers

      • Me too, little buddy!

  • I really enjoyed this episode, partly because I’m a big fan of both Jose Ferrer and his son – Miguel Ferrer – who played Albert Rosenfeld in Twin Peaks. There is also a Lynchian connection with Ferrer the eldest as he starred in ‘Dune’. Interestingly, Jose’s second wife was Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) and she is in fact the mother of Miguel. Jose had a wonderfully mellifluous voice, rather in the same way that Richard Burton did. Like Jimmy Stewart with ‘Harvey’, Ferrer was always associated with ‘Cyrano De Bergerac’ and it has been stated that to many people he is the greatest Cyrano within memory, which is some tribute. Back to the episode now. Of course, like most Columbo episodes, there were some minor plot holes, but overall this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it.

    There may also be a Moreno brothers connection, in that a certain Luis Moreno starred as an officer.
    There is a Roddy McDowell connection too, as Lou Wagner co-starred in a couple of ‘Planet of the Apes’ films. Then again, so did Kim Hunter, who appeared in ‘Suitable for Framing’ as Edna Matthews, and Maurice Evans, who appeared in ‘Forgotten Lady’ as Raymond, so there’s a pretty strong POTA connection going on.

    I need to be cautious here [thinking about Largo specifically] but there is also quite strong connection with ‘Wonder Woman’ too: Art Batanides who played ‘Murph’; also Lew Ayres, who played ‘Nicholson’; Jessica Walter, who played ‘Margaret Nicholson’; Charles Macauley who played ‘Farnsworth’; and of course Robby the Robot (in an episode called ‘Spaced Out’).

  • Arabian Knights

    This episode is one I almost never watch as I truly dislike it. The characters are flat and one dimensional and evoke no empathy.

    The podcast was excellent, as always.

    Looking forward to Swan Song, which, with By Dawn’s Early Light and Exercise in Fatality, ranks in my top three.


  • Abigail

    I absolutely love the moment where Cahill runs into the corridor at the end and Columbo is just sat casually waiting for him, cool as a cucumber. However, I find the rest of the denouement to be a big let down as accusing the son and dramatically taking him away is not only very questionable ethically, it’s also just not clever. There’s nothing intelligent about having someone come in and just lie about how the son was having an affair with the widow – it all feels a tad cheap. Although I do like the way that Columbo explains the exact moment that he knew who did it – this avoids the problem that some episodes have where Columbo seems to just magically suspect the right person for no reason at all. All in all, it’s a strange episode which is mildly diverting but nowhere near as entertaining as it should be.