By Dawn's Early Light

Episode 26 – By Dawn’s Early Light

The twenty-sixth episode of Columbo was titled By Dawn’s Early Light and was the third episode of the show’s fourth season. A colonel looks to preserve the status of his military academy by rigging a cannon to take care of a perceived threat. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the setting, characters and circumstances that give Columbo a taste of academy life and lead him to a dramatic finale.



Patrick McGoohan makes his Columbo debut as Colonel Lyle Rumford, a military man with military principles which he puts into practice at his military academy. Only it is not his military academy. Owner William Haynes (Tom Simcox) sees more economic potential in turning the school into a co-ed junior college, an establishment at which there would be no place for Rumford. Rigging a cannon to backfire, Rumford kills Haynes leading to a police investigation.


McGoohan would go on to become a favourite with Columbo fans after making an Emmy-winning start in this episode, picking up 1975’s Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series. Three more appearances over twenty-four years and five stints in the director’s chair would establish him as a Columbo legend. Younger listeners may best remember him for his role as Edward I Longshanks in 1995’s Braveheart opposite Mel Gibson.


Shot entirely on location, this episode was tightly focused on Rumford and Columbo’s exchanges. Mark Wheeler made an impression as Cadet Springer – an early suspect – while both Bruce Kirby and his son Bruno appeared, the former as Sergeant George Kramer – an officer irritated by Columbo’s methods – and the latter as Cadet Morgan, a cider-fermenting student who helps Columbo crack the case. Burr DeBenning‘s Captain Loomis and Madeleine Sherwood‘s Miss Brady – PA to Rumford – kept the story moving, in turn.


Director Harvey Hart took the helm for the first of his four Columbo episodes, while writer Howard Berk penned the first of his two shows (Berk would go on to write a pair of 1979 episodes of Mrs Columbo, but we’ll forgive him for that!).


If you have thoughts on any aspect of By Dawn’s Early Light please share them 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.


By Dawn’s Early Light was released in 1974. It is 98 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.

  • What a GREAT episode. From the first frame to the last, I absolutely loved it. Patrick McGoohan was on top form as he well and truly nailed the character of the colonel. The Godfather theme continued with the appearance of Bruno Kirby as Cadet Morgan. Kirby – who died way too soon – played the young Peter Clemenza in the GF2 and was, in fact, the son of Bruce Kirby who we all recognise of course. In fact there is a further Francis Ford Coppola connection, as Mark Wheeler (Roy Springer) appeared in ‘The Conversation’. I also encourage you all to check out the prolific career of Robert Clotworthy, aka the boodle boy.

    At first I thought we were going to be in for lots of humour as our eponymous dishevelled detective takes on the meticulous colonel, but instead we see a definitive mutual respect tending towards friendship develop as the episode wears on, which was really quite uplifting, given the circumstances.

    For me, this is a 10/10 and I don’t say that lightly. Tie-break with ‘Any Old Port in a Storm’ for the number 1 slot, and I never thought I would ever say that. I enjoyed the story, the pacing, the music, and above all the acting. There was even a bit of a tease thrown in around Columbo’s christian name. Sublime stuff.

    PS The alternative title for this in Timbuktu was ‘Where did my sweetcorn go?’ Wonder why. :p

  • Largo

    “By Dawn’s Early Light ” is a superb episode and is one of two** definitive Columbo Mystery Movies that illustrates how one can ‘change up things’ without breaking the show’s formula (unlike the abominable “Last Salute To The Commodore”). Patrick McGoohan does an incredible job here as Colonel Lyle Rumford and he definitely earned that Emmy Award for his performance in this episode — it is one of the very best of the whole Columbo series. The entire supporting cast is really excellent as well — high praise all around, eh!

    However, there are some items that bug me and these script contrivances just have to be chalked up as nonsense that is firmly entrenched inside of ‘TV Fantasyland.’ To wit:

    1. Just where did Rumford get his hands on some C-4, a tightly controlled type of ordinance?
    2. C-4 needs a detonator that is fired by an electrical charge for it to explode. I didn’t see any batteries and wires (let alone a timer) when Rumford was doctoring that shell.
    3. Why would an ordinary cadet assigned to the honor duty of simply cleaning the cannon have access to any munitions at all?
    4. Speaking of live munitions, why would a military academy have any of this type of ordinance on its grounds in the first place? The Haynes Academy is not a military base!

    Yeah — one has to turn a blind eye to all of this ‘TV Fantasyland’ nonsense. I have to admit that I do turn a blind eye (I’ve got an eyepatch, mateys!) because everything else about this episode is superlative. Be seeing you!

    ** the other Columbo episode is “Troubled Waters.”

    • Mr. Rourke. The plane! the plane! [Oh sorry, Largo – thought you said ‘Fantasy Island’]. :p

    • Arabian Knights

      Agreed. McGoohan (for whom I had a teenage crush in Danger Man) was excellent. I always thought him a better actor than director. I haven’t enjoyed his directoral work at all, e.g. Last Salute.

      Iain, you are from a different generation in regards to your comments about military discipline. The cadet life as portrayed was exactly spot on and rang true to me. The academy’s (and military’s) task was to turn boys into men by subjecting them to rigid discipline without breaking their spirit. They would have had a field day with today’s generation.

      One flaw with Rumford’s character, not performance, bothered me, i.e. he hanged Cadet Springer out to dry. Tough disciplinarian, but such always look after their men. He showed no remorse or concern about having his cadet take the fall.

      Thank you!

      • Ian Baxter

        I agree about the expectation of his type of character to ‘look after his men’ but he has just blown up one of his own! I wonder if this is more about him having a strong understanding of who the enemy is? It also makes me wonder if this could have been one of the few times Columbo could have been put in danger. They obviously chose not to go down this road, but once he decides to stay over he could easily have been intimidated, pressured or threatened by those ‘loyal’ to Rumford.

      • Largo

        I totally agree that Patrick McGoohan’s absolute worst directorial effort is “Last Salute To The Commodore.” But I quite enjoyed the other Columbo episodes that McGoohan directed, especially “Identity Crisis.” I also enjoyed his directorial (and screenwriting) efforts on The Prisoner series.

        Is it just me or do I detect a tinge of regret on Rumford’s part concerning Springer (and the attempt to hang him out to dry) in that office scene with Columbo and Cadet Springer? I feel that his military training and discipline to protect all of his men is starting to take over here and leads to his spiraling downfall in the subsequent scenes. But I dunno …. McGoohan can be quite convincing when he portrays cold-hearted bastards! 🙂

        • Arabian Knights

          Very much agree and kind thanks for your reply.

          • Largo

            You are most welcome!

        • Arabian Knights

          I had a big problem with how Rumford, the martinet, treated his captain. You simply do not treat a commissioned officer that way. Commissioned officers are supposed to treat each others as gentlemen, not grunts to be chewed out and humiliated.

  • Peter

    We need to have a discussion whether the Star Trek or The Godfather has a stronger connection to Columbo

    • Largo

      There will be no discussion. It is done.
      Metron from the Star Trek episode “Arena”

      In terms of sheer numbers of actors and production personnel, Star Trek easily achieves the stronger connection to Columbo, eh. Kirk, Spock and Bones agree.

      • It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings, and I say that with an affectionate nod to Leonard Nimoy.

  • luciaphile

    Apple cider in the US is usually non-alcoholic, but it’s different than apple juice. I think that’s largely due to the process, but it tastes very different. Cider is pressed whereas apple juice is like reconstituted cider that they add water to.

  • Roberto

    I will post more later after I listen to the Podcast, but this is surely a fan favorite episode. McGoohan was great, of course, and his interactions with Falk were excellent.

    Per usual, the crime and solution were far from perfect, but the standard that Columbo was setting far exceeded the normal television crime mystery tripe.

  • CarlosMu

    I think Iain’s discomfort with the episode needs a psychological explanation. My theory is that there was a traumatic event back in his boodle boy days, possibly involving a jar of urine.

    More seriously, I loved this episode. It’s the single episode I remember vividly from watching Columbo as a kid. I think it’s the setting, and of course McGoohan’s performance, especially in scenes with Columbo.

    A couple of trivia points: the name of the school where it was filmed is “The Citadel” and in kind of a strange coincidence that school got into a controversy a little later about becoming co-ed. I think it was in the 1980’s and it was a pretty big national story.

    Also this is the second episode in a row where the title relates to the way the killer was caught.

    By the way the comment about the podcast changing the way the episode is perceived is definitely true. I end up appreciating the episodes more. This was especially true of “Dead Weight” for some reason.

    • That’s a great point about the title!

      • Largo

        Note to Gerry and Iain : Please remember to watch the entire end credits to each and every Columbo Mystery Movie. You’ll be glad that you did, eh! To wit:

        • Easier said than done – Netflix has a habit of starting the next episode before the credits are even finished!

          • Largo

            Do you mean to tell me that Gerry isn’t sharing his “The Complete Columbo” DVD set? Inconceivable! 😉

          • Largo

            Even though this might be a tad too late, here is the end credit acknowledgement from the next Columbo fourth season episode, “Troubled Waters” —

    • As someone who has downloaded but not yet listened to this week’s podcast, I’m intrigued. Will I be turning it off in disgust?!!!

      • I’m sure you’ll appreciate the divergence in opinions. Might be worth listening to see if it grows on me as I talk about it!

    • Largo

      Great comment, Carlos! You made my morning here at work with that humorous observation concerning Iain’s “traumatic event” in his past. Heh — so I hope Iain fesses up and tells all of us the real story. 😉

      Despite some of the problematic plot mechanics, this is still a great episode because of Patrick McGoohan’s superb performance. When I watch this episode, I see the zealousness and the perfect discipline of General George S. Patton coupled with a bit of the obsessiveness of Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny in the character of Colonel Lyle Rumford. But whenever Patrick McGoohan and Peter Falk are together in a Columbo Mystery Movie, there’s always something quite special in their performances — it’s kind of magical in a way, eh! 🙂

  • I have just found this ‘Columbo theme’ on Spotify. What the heck?!


  • Ian Baxter

    Great episode, and the problems with it are easily overlooked in favour of the interplay between Falk and McGoohan, The beginning of a great working relationship and friendship.

    I’m curious, does anyone know if ‘ Columbo’ brought these two together? Had they worked together before?

    Oh, and apologies for being a little late on the comments, the birthday celebrations were in full flow, and I obviously wanted to take due care before firing the ceremonial canon. Mrs Baxter was delighted with the shout out and wants me to pass on her thanks, 21 again!

    • Largo

      Happy belated birthday wishes to Mrs. Baxter! Number Six and I wish you the very best! 🙂

      • Ian Baxter

        Thank you Largo, what do have to pay to get her back? 🙂

        • Largo

          Not one penny, eh! Mrs. Baxter should have arrived back at your place via helicopter by now. As much as she enjoyed her visit to The Village, Mrs. Baxter did not want to stay there. Be seeing you!

        • Largo

          And while we’re on the subject of The Village and Patrick McGoohan’s greatest achievement on television, The Prisoner (1967-68), let us all not forget Number Six’s credo from this series:

  • Roberto

    Another great podcast! Great job Gerry and Iain. The heavy-handed military angle is a bit off-putting as Iain rightly points out. But Columbo’s villains needed to be a certain type for the show to work best. Of course, the Viet Nam war was quite controversial and taking shots (pun intended) at military types was fairly risky at the time. Iain surely recalls several Star Trek (TOS) episodes which surreptitiously critiqued US involvement in Viet Nam and the Cold War in general.

    Maybe I am an American of a certain age but I must have heard the Andrews Sisters singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy a million times in my childhood. The reason why I bring this up is that “Reveille” is a key word in the song. And there were many military-themed US TV shows and movies during this time which featured reveille. So it was a concept US viewers of Columbo would have been more than familiar with.

    Lastly, the idea of the Podcast is a gold mine. Of course, one of the neat aspects of the Podcast is that Iain is necessarily seeing these episodes for the first time through his 21st century sensibilities (and repeat viewers like Gerry, me, and all the other Podcast listeners come along on the journey). This has come up frequently on the Podcast, which is fantastic, and will surely continue to be talked about. Everything from the treatment of women to police procedures. However, one thing that is hard to capture in a 40-year retrospective is just how new and fresh Columbo was at the time. Turning the traditional whodunnit on its head with great interplay between the rumpled, understated detective and the well-groomed high-minded villain. To steal Gerry’s line in summing up this episode, I believe that Columbo is greater than the sum of its parts.

  • Largo

    I want to give Gerry and Iain a special thank you for their linking to an article on The Prisoner (1967-68) in the show notes. But I found Patrick McGoohan’s comment “I will always be a Number” rather depressing. Sure, McGoohan will be best remembered for his most iconic role as Number Six (or as John Drake, depending on your interpretation of The Prisoner series). I feel that when an actor can claim an iconic role that they are rather fortunate, for they inherit a permanent part of history within our popular culture. But I don’t feel Patrick McGoohan was held “prisoner” by this most iconic role of his, because he was so incredibly versatile as a producer, a director and an actor …. as all of us Columbo fans are well aware, eh! Even when he appeared in such tripe as Silver Streak (1976), he was totally awesome. Patrick McGoohan never ‘phoned in’ a performance! Be seeing you!

  • Largo

    I first encountered the great Patrick McGoohan via The Wonderful World of Disney television series when they aired “The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh” in February of 1964. This special presentation had been released overseas as Dr. Syn alias The Scarecrow in 1963. I’m one of the lucky ones that snatched up the special edition DVD release — which has the original three-part TV presentation as well as the shorter feature film version and other extras. Sweet!

  • Largo

    The very first theatrical film I saw that starred Patrick McGoohan was The Three Lives Of Thomasina (1963), which was first released in the USA in June of 1964. This film was later shown on The Wonderful World of Disney in November of 1965 and aired in three parts on consecutive Sundays. The Three Lives Of Thomasina, which I personally subtitle “The Greatest Cat Movie Ever Made,” stars Susan Hampshire as the mysterious Lori MacGregor, Karen Dotrice as Mary McDhui and Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Andrew McDhui, a cold-hearted (at first) veterinarian. It’s a story of how the Lord can work through a simple thing such as the love of a pet cat and about the renewal of faith. Oh — and it plays upon the trope of the stereotypical arrogant, self-centered cat as well, eh. Meow! >^..^<

  • Ian Baxter

    Just a thought, but Lyle (as in Lyle Rumford) means ‘an island’. Don’t know how much thought goes into the choice of a character name, but this perhaps this adds a nice little insight into his character.

  • Emrys

    This is a great episode of Columbo… and probably the most memorable (for me… along with the chess episode… from my youth). When I think ‘Columbo’, I think McGoohan. This McGoohan. But I didn’t put it in my top ten because it’s not one I gravitate toward. My hand just does not reach for it. It’s not enough fun. But it’s still fantastic.

    McGoohan is one of my favourite actors and the Prisoner is one of my favourite series. Largo has outdone himself with the factoids, but I get the feeling the youth of today will miss out on this legendary piece of television. The Prisoner is a ‘must watch’ but I admit it is a difficult and confusing watch. McGoohan is solid as a rock. And he carries that persona with him into Columbo. The most single-minded actor ever? Perhaps so. Your list of the roles he turned down is utterly amazing. I believe he turned James Bond down because he refused to kiss a woman on screen? Absolute single-mindedness! You can see McGoohan in Number Six. Completely.

    Again, I forgive Columbo its plot holes. They just don’t bother me as they do you guys. I just hope you two never have to pick apart the finale to the Prisoner! Ha ha!

    Was going to upload a photo of me standing in ‘the village’… but damn I needed a haircut!

    • Largo

      It’s interesting that Patrick McGoohan felt that onscreen kissing was “rubbish,” but that it was just fine to have “old-fashioned fisticuffs” type action in films. I’ve also read that he felt that the script for Dr. No (the first James Bond film) was too misogynistic as well as immoral. However, it is rather ironic that almost all of the female roles in McGoohan’s The Prisoner (1967-68) series can be reduced to three types: the deceiver, the temptress and the dupe.

      On first viewing, the final episode of The Prisoner, “Fall Out,” is quite frustrating because the series does a ‘180’ and suddenly goes from an external struggle and on to an internal one without much warning. “Fall Out” is also outrageous, annoying and ridiculous at times — but, in the final analysis, it is ultimately brilliant and rather profound. Certainly there are a few superfluous episodes in this series (McGoohan’s original format only called for 7 total episodes), but the ‘core’ stories of The Prisoner are just as easy to identify and they provide the key elements to truly enjoy and ‘unlock’ Patrick McGoohan’s brilliant concept. The Prisoner is, in my very humble opinion, the most fascinating and profound series ever produced for television.

      Below you’ll find a YouTube video of an interview with Patrick McGoohan from 1977 where he discusses The Prisoner series. But this video is just for my fellow Prisoner enthusiasts like Emrys — so I’ll end this with a friendly warning for the uninitiated — Here Be Spoilers:

      • Ian Baxter

        Thanks for sharing the interview Largo.

        Patrick McGoohan comes across as very assured; but I wonder if he could also be very forceful, singleminded, perhaps quite challenging to work with?

        When you add this to what we know of Peter Falk’s strength of character and resolve in wrestling with the studios I can imagine theses two were quite a handful working on Columbo!

        Also, when you hear his judgements on TV and society, you realise that his willingness to working with Columbo over the years is something of a endorsement for Columbo’s originality.

        • Largo

          Indeed! Having Peter Falk as a friend with a big hit on television makes it all the more easier to get to direct and rewrite a character’s dialogue as Patrick McGoohan got to do several times on Columbo. 🙂

          • Emrys

            I have watched that interview with McGoohan a few times over the years. When I watched it tonight he seemed more ‘paranoid’ than I remember. But I’ve had a lot of coffee!!!
            Here’s a picture of me standing on Number 2’s balcony. (If I can get it to work!)

          • Largo

            Thanks for that picture! One of my goals is to finally get over to Wales and stay at the Portmeirion Hotel. About McGoohan ‘paranoia’ — I don’t think its the coffee. I remember an interview I read around this time where he came off as edgy and slightly paranoid: purchasing multiple airplane seat tickets so he didn’t have to sit next to any strangers while on board the flight, etc. But McGoohan was such an impressive and multi-talented man, I’ll give any quirks of his an easy pass, eh.

  • Largo

    Here is the basic opening used throughout most of The Prisoner (1967-68) television series. This is from the episode “The Chimes Of Big Ben,” with the great Leo McKern as one of the guest stars. Enjoy:

    • Largo

      Patrick McGoohan took a break from filming The Prisoner television series to star in the espionage thriller Ice Station Zebra (1968). This particular scene from this film always amuses me and makes me think of McGoohan’s angry and rebellious Number 6 character — especially with one particular action McGoohan utilizes here for emphasis:

  • Largo


    Where, oh where has the famous Richard Hinton gone? It’s been over a month since I’ve seen my good buddy — and fellow robot enthusiast — on the Columbo Podcast Forum. I’m getting worried here! 🙁


      Where are Gerry and Iain??!! I have just begun to tune in to the podcast blog and love it. But where or where are all of you?? Everything says 8 months ago. Am I left in the dust? I hope not but — I will enjoy what there is so far. It is very rich.

      • Largo

        You have a ways to go yet, MLCBLOG! We’re all over at the Episode 61 discussion forum thread of the Columbo Podcast — which is covering the Columbo Season 11 ABC Mystery Movie, “A Bird In The Hand …”

      • Hi! Sorry to leave you hanging on so long. As Largo kindly points out, we’re most often in the comments of the current episode, but I (Iain) try to check in on new posts on older threads as much as I can (or as often as I remember!).

        Glad to have you on board.

  • Harveyadam

    Hi Iain and Gerry –

    You might like to know there is another, younger, devotee to Columbo and also your podcast – my son, aged thirteen. He lives in Dumfries and due to distance we only get every other weekend together. However, our Sunday late afternoon ritual now is to watch an episode of Columbo before the drive back, during which we listen to the podcast relating to it. I have to tell you that he adores both and looks forward to hearing you discuss the show and also the tidbits of information that escaped him when he viewed it.

    As I write, we are watching By Dawn’s Early Light (a classic in my opinion) and will be winding our way up the M6 soon with you both on the podcasting machine.

    Keep up the great work.