A Case of Immunity

Episode 32 – A Case of Immunity

The thirty first episode of Columbo was titled A Case of Immunity and was the second episode of the show’s fifth season. Internal conflicts lead a diplomat to kill two colleagues while the US government pressures Columbo to drop the case. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the way Columbo builds his case and a dramatic resolution.

 

 

The versatile Hector Elizondo features as Hassan Salah, First Secretary to the Suari King, who conspires with Sal Mineo‘s Rahman Habib to murder Youssef Alafa (André Lawrence). Alafa is the Security Chief at the Suari Legation in Los Angeles and internal politics seem to be the primary motivation. Salah goes on to kill Habib as well to ensure he is not implicated in the killing of Alafa.

 

Brioni Farrell as Xenia, a member of staff at the Legation; and Barry Robins as the aforementioned Suari King played important supporting roles as Columbo built his own alliances. Dick Dinman‘s brief appearance as government agent Kermit Morgan was also critical in establishing the particular complications of the case

 

Ted Post directed in the first of his two Columbo episodes, while Lou Shaw‘s teleplay of James Menzies‘ story was also the first of two engagements on the show. By contrast, this was Menzies’ only involvement with Columbo.

 

If you have thoughts on any aspect of A Case of Immunity 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.

 

A Case of Immunity was released in 1975. It is 70 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 the show’s seasons released by Universal.

 

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

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

  • Largo

    All I can say about the Columbo Mystery Movie, “A Case Of Immunity,” is poor Sal Mineo. This young actor (37) was taken from us just a few months after this episode aired in October 1975. On the evening of February 12, 1976, Sal Mineo was stabbed to death by a drug-crazed drifter named Lionel Ray Williams. Sal Mineo was returning home from rehearsing a play (costarring Keir Dullea) when this total stranger attacked and killed him just to steal some money to buy drugs. It is so horribly ironic that one of Sal Mineo’s nicknames was “The Switchblade Kid.” I can’t watch this Columbo episode without thinking about this totally senseless and brutal killing. Now I need a drink. Be seeing you!

  • Peter

    I hate this episode and can’t give good reasons why. As much as I love Elizondo as a character actor (he was hysterical in Young Doctors in Love), I don’t think he played this role well and did not think his interactions with Columbo are as good as with other villains.

    • Arabian Knights

      Agreed; I just can’t get into this one or next week’s “Identity Crisis”. Sure cure for insomnia.
      According to some definitions, a legation is a diplomatic mission a step below an embassy, which requires an ambassador. No ambassador here, hence it’s a legation. The word does sound odd, however.

      • I did wonder if being a legation was necessary for the crime to be on US soil (are embassies not technically the territory of the country involved?).

    • CarlosMu

      I love him too, and I don’t think he played the role well but it may be a role no one could have played well.

  • Roberto

    This episode is creepy and not in a good way. Probably reflects more on me and my world views than on the episode itself. However, I think it is fair to say that the crime was substandard as well as the interaction between Columbo and villain. I generally like Hector Elizondo (Monk’s second therapist) and everyone likes Sal Mineo. Somehow with those two leads the show still was mediocre at best. The final scene was sort of the opposite of a gotcha and disappointing. Best way to sum up this episode — disappointing.

    P.S. The podcast was great as ever though!

  • saltyessentials

    I agree, this isn’t a first tier episode, but I enjoyed it well enough. Truth be told, I’m a fairly uncritical watcher–I tend to happily gloss over various imperfections to enjoy a character/actor/subject matter I like. Even so, I couldn’t think of a lot to say about this one. Several decent to above average actors involved, but the thing never quite soars for me.

    All the talk of non-Arabs being cast as Arabs got me thinking about an interview I read with Ricardo

    Montalbán. He talked about the 60s and 70s and being cast as Native American, East Indian, various Mideastern ethnicities–it wasn’t that often he actually got to play someone of Mexican ancestry. Hollywood definitely had a lackadaisical attitude about how various minorities were portrayed back then. “Meh, he got dark skin. He’ll do.”

    I think my favorite moment in this one is when Columbo tells Salah about the contacts and eyeglasses being used at the same time. Loved Salah’s reaction.

    I thought Barry Robins was an interesting watch–I’ve never seen him in anything else that I noticed. Sad to see he died so young. BTW, great job on the show note links, as usual, Iain.

    • Thanks salty. Interesting you should mention Montalban…

      • saltyessentials

        I know, right? Didn’t realize he was up so soon….

  • Roberto

    The wonderful Brioni Farrell played Tula in The Return of the Archons in Star Trek (TOS). By the way, did someone say that someone in this Columbo episode was in three original Star Trek episodes? (I might have mis-heard; if so, who?)

    • I did. George Sawaya (who played the Embassy guard towards the end who tells Columbo about the car being in the garage) appeared in S1 E11, S1 E26 and S3 E7 of the original Star Trek.

  • Johnny

    Legation.

  • Johnny

    Also, I’m bit incredulous at the idea that given a choice anyone would choose a middle eastern prison in the 1970s. It’s not too pro-American to suggest that, I know what I would have chosen!

  • CarlosMu

    First of all, I am now a huge George Sawaya fan. He’s the “man!” Get it?

    Second, I agree they handled the cultural stuff poorly. Up until hearing your comments I thought it was just uninteresting but you have a point about it being chauvinistic as well.

    And the bit about the snails was seriously annoying. Columbo had obviously just scooped out the snail from its shell, so how does it make any sense for his reaction when told it was a snail? Never mind the fact that we have seen Columbo comfortable with eating snails in the chess episode. I’m as angry about this as Gerry is about the embassy security travesty.

    On a positive note, the gag with him almost knocking over the vase was a great Columbo moment.

    • Roberto

      Why didn’t they say the vase was worth millions rather than thousands? I would love the opportunity to go back and try to improve these episodes the most with the least amount of changes.

      This has come up previously. Many TV shows were under tremendous time pressure to film a weekly series. However, Columbo was more like a monthly show. Didn’t they have more time to improve poor scripts, plot holes, etc.?

  • Ian Baxter

    Well, all in all, I’m able to enjoy this one, despite it being a rather unsubtle episode. However it is not really one I’d encourage someone interested in dabbling with a bit of Columbo to watch.

    The portrayal of the Suari Legation was way too heavy handed, and I can’t help thinking about a very bizarre school nativity play I once saw with kids in tea towels and sheets… in this play the Inn had it’s own security team! It probably did as much for east west relations as this episode!

    However, given a choice over which I would chose to guard my Legation I’d pick the school kids over the Suari guards any day! 🙂

    Fun podcast… can I just check… as a Scot living in England am I entitled to my own Legation? 🙂

    • Apparently we voted no to that sort of thing fairly recently…

      • Ian Baxter

        Well, I’m just glad Scotland didn’t get the ‘Columbo’ treatment… they would not be able to resist the national stereotypes. The Lieutenant would inevitable reference some Scottish relatives on his wives side… kilts, bagpipes and the Loch Ness Monster would be strewn throughout the script… He’d inadvertently try some haggis, love it, then be told what it really is…. and Mrs Columbo will have packed a tartan shirt!

  • I enjoyed the podcast very much, as usual. I never noticed the discrepancies and plot holes that Gerry and Iain point out. I find there perspectives very interesting.

    I was laughing out loud at the Muppet comments. 🙂

    • I meant “their”, not “there”. I do know the difference. I usually catch that. :/

  • luciaphile

    This is my least favorite of all of the 1970s Columbos. Namely because of the fairly nationalistic US Cold War perspective and because of the non-Arab actors in the Arab roles. It’s the one I usually skip over when I do a Columbo re-watch. That said, I enjoyed your take on the episode. As always an excellent podcast.

    • Roberto

      As this episode remains the “current” episode in the podcast rotation, I thought I’d pop back in to comment. This episode is my second least episode of the original run, with my least favorite episode still to come (I am sure that most know which I am talking about).

      Believe it or not, I prefer Gerry’s least favorite episode (iirc) set in London over this episode and the one to come ever so slightly. 😮

      • Ian Baxter

        Yes, there is a strange feeling of impending doom as I think about ‘the episode still to come’. Although I am looking forward to the podcast on that episode… 🙂

  • CallMeSu

    Interesting that you guys found this to be a Western vs. Eastern thing. I never got that vibe when I watched this episode at all. I would have enjoyed more exposition about the regime before they got to America also, but I fear we would have gotten into more propaganda. For me, when I watch this episode I just view the killing as issues and political conflicts that they had before, spilling over into American territory. I don’t see it as a contrast between Eastern and Western sensibilities. I saw the Kings manner of dress as being a statement of modern vs. traditional rather than eastern dress vs. western dress; with the killer’s traditional dress being a nod to the past and the king’s dress representative of the modern or progressive thinking that the killer seeks to eradicate. I viewed Columbo as being an outsider who is concerned only with solving the murder. The line where Columbo states that it may be better that he faces justice in his own land reinforces that for me. I think there is a suggestion that the punishment might be harsher for him in his own country which is why he would rather stay in the US. Which suggests to me not that American justice is “better” but maybe it might be easier to sit in jail in America than to go home and face harsher consequences. I HATE that they didn’t use Middle Eastern actors in this episode but most of the shows and movies from this time didn’t do that. Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra? Really? hahaha, or when they would use Mexicans instead of Indians and that kind of thing. I have to say this is one of my least favorite episodes.

    • It’s great that we can all watch the same show and have such varied opinions of it. Credit to the show itself that there is room for interpretation, I think.

  • Robert MacDonald

    I’m apparently in the minority here, but I liked this episode quite a bit. Mainly what I liked was Columbo being put in a situation where he cannot move directly against his suspect because of diplomatic immunity.

    Maybe I’m hopelessly naive, but I never found this episode to be overly political. I took it as it was, although looking back Suari is probably an analog to Iran, but the culprit could easily have been Cold War types as well.

    I enjoyed the Gotcha! moment, where Columbo essentially stung Salah. It was very slick, and even though you knew something was coming, the King stepping into the room when he did, was an excellent moment.

    Again, maybe I just need more coffee but that’s how I saw it.