Last Salute to the Commodore

Episode 36 – Last Salute to the Commodore

The thirty fifth episode of Columbo was titled Last Salute to the Commodore and was the highly controversial final episode of the show’s fifth season. An array of suspects are presented as the show departs from its usual format. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at what was changed and the extent to which it helped or harmed the character of Columbo.



There were a number of returning actors in this episode. Robert Vaughn took top billing, having portrayed a killer in Season Four’s Troubled Waters, while Wilfrid Hyde-White, John Dehner, Joshua Bryant and Fred Draper also appeared in new roles. Bruce Kirby reprised his part as Sergeant George Kramer.


The episode did not follow the usual format. Dehner’s Otis Swanson, the Commodore referred to in the Episode title, was murdered near the start of the episode with the audience led to believe Vaughn’s Charles Clay was responsible. Later, however, Clay himself is murdered and suspicion falls on Diane Baker‘s Joanna Clay – daughter of Otis and wife of Charles. She is joined as a suspect by Wayne Taylor (Bryant), the Commodore’s lawyer Kittering (Hyde-White), the Commodore’s new love Lisa King (Susan Foster) and Clay’s cousin ‘Swanny’ Swanson (Draper).


In an Agatha Christie-style finale Columbo, Kramer and Dennis Dugan‘s Sgt. Theodore ‘Mac’ Albinsky gather the suspects in a single room before solving the case in front of them. As it turns out, Joanna, Kittering, Wayne and Lisa killed nobody, with Swanny responsible for both murders.


As with most of the actors, the director and writer were both returning to the show. Jackson Gillis penned seven episodes across the first three seasons, but this was his first script since then and his last for a further fourteen years. The episode was directed by Patrick McGoohan, his second stint behind the camera and perhaps his most scrutinised.


During the show we asked if anyone recalled the contemporary reaction to this episode. If you have thoughts on that or any other aspect of Last Salute to the Commodore 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.


Last Salute to the Commodore was released in 1976. It is 95 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

    There was an eerie silence hanging over the Largo living room after watching the NBC premiere of the Colombo Mystery Movie, “Last Salute To The Commodore.” I just sat there thinking to myself, ‘What happened to my show?’ NBC had advertised this particular episode rather heavily as an Agatha Christie-type drawing room whodunit, where both Columbo and the viewing audience wouldn’t know who the murderer was until the last five minutes of the program. To simply say that “Last Salute To The Commodore” is the worst Columbo Mystery Movie ever made is not taking the negative criticism far enough. “Last Salute To The Commodore” is a total and complete train wreck of a production: a flying off of the rails, crashing and exploding and burning and melting into molten bits type of disaster. The Columbo producers, the director, the writer and the main star should all be ashamed of themselves for unleashing this contemptuous and elephantine monstrosity upon all of us fans. The big mystery about this particular Columbo episode is how in the Sam Hill did this ever make it to film in the first place? Inconceivable!!!

    All of those complaints about director Patrick McGoohan ‘slowing Columbo down’ in the earlier episode, “Identity Crisis,” falls on deaf ears with me because “Last Salute To The Commodore” moves so lethargically it’s as if most of cast and the entire production team are all on Quaaludes. Sheesh – there are more pregnant pauses here than in a Harold Pinter play. Strike that: there are more pregnant pauses in this Columbo production than in four Harold Pinter plays combined! Only two actors emerge from this Columbo episode with their reputations completely intact and they are Wilfred Hyde-White and Robert Vaughn. Wilfred Hyde-White doesn’t get to do much in this episode (he’s hardly in it), but whenever he is on the screen, he comes across as very charming — the dude just can’t help it, eh. Robert Vaughn is the ‘Rosetta Stone’ to properly reading this horrible Columbo production. His facial expressions tell all: Vaughn’s visage vacillates between “What did I just sign up for?” to “Where’s my paycheck?” that are both frequently punctuated with “I am not amused” and “I’m totally bored here!” My sentiments exactly, Robert!

    But rather than belabor the obvious here with more verbiage, I now leave you all with an amusing video that breaks down the nuts and bolts of this “Last Salute To The Commodore” abomination within a satirical vein. Be seeing you!

    • Rather suspect this will be a common view! Hope you enjoy the podcast regardless.

      If you click the McGoohan link above it’s to an interview where he talks about this episode and what he was thinking!!

      • Largo

        I’m not sure it was absolutely true to the general COLUMBO theme but I enjoyed it.
        And Peter certainly enjoyed it at the time. Because he was very near the end [of the series], he was finishing up. One of the last ones. And I said, “Well, let’s have a little fun. A slightly different COLUMBO.”

        Well, I’m absolutely sure it wasn’t true to the overall Columbo formula, because it wasn’t, eh! And it definitely wasn’t “fun” either! I’m sorry, Patrick, but all of you failed spectacularly with this production! 🙁

    • Peter

      What a great link, Largo. He certainly hits on all the problems with this episode

      • Largo

        Thanks, Peter! I discovered this YouTube video back in January when I did a Google search for “Last Salute To The Commodore.” I’ve been chomping at the bit for this opportunity to arrive so I could share this video review with everyone here. I really enjoyed the overall satirical take on this Columbo season ending travesty. It sure beats actually re-watching this excruciating anti-Columbo episode! 🙂

  • Roberto

    Posting first before I listen to the podcast (will post more later after I listen to Gerry and Iain’s pearls of wisdom):

    I remember reading about a famous actor who was the lead in a terrible movie. He was so embarrassed by his performance and the overall quality of the movie that he bought every print of the movie ever made. Once they were all acquired, he burned them so that nobody could ever see the abomination ever again from that day forward. I only wish that Peter Falk had done the same for Last Salute to the Commodore, surely the absolute worst Columbo ever made.

    If you found a local high school AV club which had limited movie experience (filming, directing, acting, editing, writing, sound, etc.), I am quite confident that they could produce a better Columbo episode than this piece of crap.

    Everything that audiences came to love and appreciate about Columbo was missing from this episode. Interesting murders; turning the traditional whodunnit detective show on its head; rich and erudite murderers; tense and witty interaction between Columbo and the murderer; first-rate crime detection; impressive final gotcha scene; etc.

    Pacing in this episode was uneven and slow. Scenes on the boat discussing nautical terms were unnecessary and painful. Acting was atrocious for the most part with Falk laughing through several scenes. Even the great Robert Vaughn was bored out of his mind and probably wondered whatinhell was going on. The least said about Diane Baker’s performance the better. Scene at the shipyard where Columbo tried to yell over the noise was ridiculous. Second murder not even mentioned in the denouement. It goes without saying that the final gotcha scene was by far the worst ever.

    The evil Bruce Kirby returneth, but he was actually not the worst policeman in this episode. That honor goes to Dennis Dugan who we already discussed at some length in the previous podcast’s thread. Suffice it to say here that he contributed absolutely nothing to this episode and his scene driving Columbo’s car was horrific (I guess it was supposed to be endearing and/or funny).

    To wrap up this missive, I can personally vouch that these feelings are not something that came to me over the years on multiple viewings of this episode. These were my exact feelings as I watched the episode when it first aired back in 1976. And I am sure that I was not alone.

    By the way, which way is Japan?

    • Japan is over there ——->

    • Largo

      I concur, Roberto! But I don’t feel that Bruce Kirby is “evil” — I enjoy all of his appearances as the no nonsense Sgt. Kramer. After this episode had premiered on NBC back on May 2, 1976, I half-expected my dad to turn to my mom while saying, “What the hell was that!?!” But that aforementioned silence was all that was needed at that time in the Largo household after this craptastic Columbo episode had concluded.

  • Roberto

    I forgot to mention in my long-winded diatribe above …. This Columbo episode vaguely reminds me of the weird Peter Falk – Ben Gazzara – John Cassavetes appearance on the Dick Cavett show (they were doing the promotional tour for The Husbands movie). Each was in a deep state of drunkenness and were having a great time and thought the audience was too. Cavett walked off in disgust (IIRC) and the audience was aghast at their boorish behavior.

    I kinda feel that McGoohan and Falk (and maybe others such as the usually fine actress Diane Baker) were drunk during the filming of this Columbo episode. John Dehner and Robert Vaughn clearly were not. Susan Foster, who I wish they could have done more with, was just high on life.

    P.S. I will slip this in here where probably nobody will see it, but I just checked the IMDB entry for this episode. I think I know who everyone in the listed cast except for “Jimmy Joyce: Handwriting Expert”. I have no remembrance of any handwriting expert in the episode, but I could be suffering from repressed memories.

    Anybody have any ideas?

    • luciaphile

      I just assumed they were all drunk or high when they made this. I love that you mentioned the Cavett thing, It is not to be missed. It’s on youtube if want to see it.

    • Joseph Scott

      Falk was very, very drunk, so drunk that Vaughn supported him so he could walk out the door in one indoor scene, for reasons that had nothing to do with the script. Vaughn shoots one of the actors a look on the boat at one point, around the time Falk can remember the gist of the script but is unable to use subjects and verbs together properly.

      • Joseph Scott

        My thought on the fact that we’ve all sat through this whole damn thing is something Eddie Albert pointed out: Peter could be an asshole.

  • Arabian Knights

    As a director, McGoohan was a great actor. Why can’t good actors stick to what they are good at?
    Simply appalling episode in which the script appeared to be improvised on the spot. This is the only episode that I deleted from my digital collection, although I wasted two hours of my life re-watching it on You Tube prior to your excellent podcast. I missed it on the original run, but did not miss much. Dagger of the Mind is Shakespearean in comparison.
    – A grown woman (Diane Baker) who constantly refers to her father as Daddy. C’mon. She should have outgrown that by age 12. Her drunken persona was embarrassing.
    – Pointless introductions that did not further the plot (what plot?).
    – Excessive shouting, no doubt caused by the lack of a script.
    Sorry, but next week’s Fade Into Murder is also on my gah! list. At least it has a plot.

    • The ‘daddy’ patter is certainly a bit weird. Creepy even.

      • Largo

        True — it was “creepy” and “weird,” but it also was totally ridiculous and gratuitous and really embarrassing to behold. I mean — cringe worthy embarrassing, eh! 🙁

  • Ian Baxter

    ‘Last Salute to the Commodore’…

  • hungbunny

    The whole episode has a hazy, trippy feel to it. I wonder if it was originally entitled Last Salute to Dog, à la Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds…?

  • DomJBrown

    Great podcast! Loved it when you guys were talking about the number of sidekicks and said ‘We don’t need any of them, we don’t want any of them!’

    To be honest I kinda like this episode simply because its completely off the page and it’s got a truly beautiful ending. But at the same time I can understand your criticisms. This is almost like a spoof episode. Be interesting how we judged it if it had a traditional ending because that tends to overshadow what is a crazy production.

    I have one observation and I thought of it for the first time when I listened to your podcast. Now as you said the Commodore as a character isn’t fleshed out in any detail, and then consider the flimsy evidence for a conviction, then combine this with the unique who-dunnit conclusion. Now is it possible that Swanny never actually committed the crime in the first place!? If so it makes the episode that little bit more interesting!

    Keep up the good work


    • Thanks Dom, love your idea!

    • CarlosMu

      I agree about the ending. Truly beautiful from the moment the three detectives exit that crazy scene in the house, into the sunlight, with the beautiful peaceful music playing, finally the insanity is over and Columbo can have a cigar. I read somewhere, maybe here in this form, that the episode is about what it feels like to quit smoking.

    • I agree. It’s a spoof and maybe it’s easier to reconcile it in our heads that way.

  • Thought I’d just drop a quick line whilst refreshing the podcast in iTunes.

    For me, watching this episode, there were a number of factors which affected the feel. Firstly I didn’t like the lack of transition between each scene, by which I mean the fade out to black, then a 2 second gap then straight into the next scene. Secondly, it felt strangely surreal / dream-like which I’m not complaining about – just not used to it in a Columbo episode. Finally, there were some moments, for instance when Mac smiled inanely at Columbo for about 10 seconds, in which it felt distinctly macabre in a kind of Lynchian (David Lynch) way. I actually enjoyed that, but that’s just me.

    Now some of you who have been tuning in for a long time will recall my mentioning ‘Husbands’ by John Cassavetes, which adopts a distinct improv style. Whilst it worked for that, due to the subject matter of three friends coming to terms with the death of a friend and the realisation of middle-age, I didn’t feel it worked for this, a murder investigation.

    If I’d have been watching this back in the day, I would have hoping that the first episode of the new season would be returning to the usual formula. If not, I would have been considering opting out. That’s a crying shame, considering all the effort that had been put in to refine the formula and expand the fan base.

    I can only conclude that the crew and production team felt so supremely confident that they were willing to take such a huge risk in what is essentially an extremely self indulgent exercise.

    In summary, a very strange animal indeed. It’s a bit like been strangely fascinated with something that you almost feel compelled to switch off, but then again you make yourself watch it, because you can’t quite believe what’s happening.

  • Peter

    If you had told me that a bunch of great actors ever to appear in a Columbo episode would turn out be one of the worst ever I would not have believed you.What a waste of acting talent on such an execrable episode. They went out of their way to upend all Columbo conventions, especially of course the whodunnit plot. Columbo acted like a clown in this, almost like this was a farce to him instead of a double murder. The car scene was painful to watch, as were numerous other scenes. The denouement was tasteless, to say the least. Did “Swannie” think it was in good taste to imitate the dead man in front of his grieving daughter? Such disrespect for the audience. What shocked me is why would Falk, whom I have heard was very protective of the integrity of the character, agree to this?

    • Largo

      “What a waste of acting talent on such an execrable episode.”

      I totally agree, Peter! Here is how I picture Diane Baker whenever I think of her: as a very lovely and kind of perky brunette. The very first film I saw that Diane Baker appeared in was Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959), where she portrayed Jenny Lindenbrook, a very lovely Scottish lass who seems to have somewhat prescient dreams. I refuse to think of Diane Baker as Joanna Clay: the bullied and abused (by many of the characters!) spent piece of used jet trash in “Last Salute To The Commodore.” What a terribly pathetic and over-indulgent performance that was, eh!

      • Largo

        And speaking of Diane Baker and all things Scottish, here she is looking rather dreamily at Sean Connery in the Alfred Hitchcock film, Marnie (1964). [ Blast! I wish lovely brunette lasses would look at me this way, eh! :.( ]

        • CarlosMu

          i wish they would drunkenly yell out “Daddy!” at me 😉

          • Largo

            No, I just don’t see that happening at all, Carlos. What I do see happening is you rather drunkenly yelling out to lovely brunette women, “Who’s your daddy!?!” 😉

  • Largo

    Thanks to Gerry and Iain for that link for the very lovely Susan Foster in the show notes. Here is how Susan Foster appeared in one of my top favorite episodes of Hawaii Five-O, “Draw Me A Killer” (1973), from this series’ sixth season, portraying a character named Mary Ellen Farmer:

    • Largo

      See how Susan Foster’s smile can light up a whole room in the above photo from the Hawaii Five-O episode, “Draw Me A Killer?” But here is how director Patrick McGoohan and the Columbo producers have Foster portray Lisa King: as a morose (never cracks a smile) new ager in the Columbo episode, “Last Salute To The Commodore” —

  • CarlosMu

    hmm as much as i’m a fan of this episode (see my forum icon), I never realized until your podcast, Swanson/Swan Song. Swan Song, as in a farewell performance. Swan Song, as in the episode starring John Dehner, the victim in “Last Salute”. Swan Song, as in the episode starring the singing killer played by Johnny Cash. Guess what song Johnny Cash has recorded? That’s right. All together now…

  • CarlosMu

    I was glad to hear you laughing at the end. Listening to you try to make sense out of why people are behaving as they do in this episode, I thought of Columbo’s line from last episode, “I’m trying to explain something that’s not explainable.”

  • Peter

    Didn’t the commodore criticize his son-in-law for deviating from the formula that made the company successful? Hmmm…..

    • Largo

      Golly gee whiz, Peter! That’s so meta!!! 🙂

    • Ian Baxter

      So true! 🙂

    • CarlosMu

      yes, and then he died. Let that be a lesson 😉

  • Roberto

    Gerry, thank you very much for your honest and disgusted appraisal of this Columbo episode. I wondered what your reaction would be and how you would present it in your podcast. I was hoping you wouldn’t stoop to the cliche excuse of an experimental episode gone wrong. Top marks all around for honesty and perspicacity.

    Iain, don’t hate Gerry too much for making you watch this episode. Just have a kip or pop in for a pint. You’ll feel better after a short while. Gerry and all Columbo fans who suffered through this episode, however, will not feel better for a long time after watching this painful imitation of a Columbo episode.

    Our only hope would have been if someone (maybe Robert Vaughn) had said in response to the detective’s arrogance, nonchalance, and overall changed manner, “Who are you and what have you done with Lieutenant Columbo?”

    Since I love Columbo so much, and he does indeed resume his normal terrific ways in the very next episode, I will give Peter Falk a pass for this monstrosity. However, the sea was angry that day, my friends, and blame must be assigned. J’accuse Patrick McGoohan of crimes against humanity and treason against the entire Columbo universe.

    I wonder how McGoohan would have felt if the shoe was on the other foot vis a vis Columbo and Peter Falk. How would he have felt if someone had made an important episode (like the finale) of his cherished Prisoner series that was nothing like the earlier episodes, an experimental failure in the extremus, artsy and difficult to follow, and left his ardent fanbase upset, angry, and confused??

  • Peter

    Thanks Gerry and Iaian for creating this wonderful little community centered around our favorite TV detective. Too bad we can’t all get together to watch and dissect a Columbo episode together!

    • Largo

      How about a special podcast with us fans discussing all things Columbo (and all things Scottish) with Gerry and Iain via Skype? Let’s make this happen! If Rob Cesternino can do this with tripe such as Big Brother and Survivor, why can’t Gerry and Iain host a “call-in” podcast for the completely awesome Columbo, eh?

      • Peter

        Great idea!

    • Thanks Peter. Appreciate it.

  • Largo

    CarlosMu: “hmm as much as i’m a fan of this episode (see my forum icon), I never realized until your podcast, Swanson/Swan Song.”

    DomJBrown: “To be honest I kinda like this episode simply because its completely off the page and it’s got a truly beautiful ending.”

    CarlosMu: “I agree about the ending. Truly beautiful from the moment the three detectives exit that crazy scene in the house, into the sunlight …”

    Please don’t take this personally, but all I can say to all of this is ………… INCONCEIVABLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Well, as per my usual trend, I listened to the podcast upon waking. My goodness me: what a tirade. Talk about venting. I’m looking forward to the return to the tried, tested and much loved format of the podcast. :p

    The funny thing is, of the sound clips you played, the actors were certainly competent enough, so the whole thing’s a missed opportunity really, but Gerry, nowhere near as bad as you painted it, in my humble opinion anyway.

    I think as a penance, you should plan on doing a project for both episodes of Twin Peaks, then wait 25 years to review the (forthcoming) season 3.

    Enough said,

  • CarlosMu

    Look closely at Columbo’s rowboat, you’ll notice it’s in as bad shape as his car. 😉

  • Johnny

    After Gerry’s apoplectic rage at the episode it was my turn to rage during the Guilty/Not Guilty segment, as usual. That aside, I need to go home so I can link Chewing The Fat’s ‘Good guy’ sketch for our non-Scottish listeners.

  • Ian Baxter

    Thanks again for another fun podcast. Gerry’s meltdown captured so well my own frustration with this utter garbage! You tried to point out a few positives, and I hear some of other peoples likes, but there are just nowhere near enough to salvage such a deviation from the Columbo formula.

    I don’t know exactly how Gerry and Iain decided to embarking on this project; I imagine a cloak and dagger type huddle in a darkened corner of a Glasgow pub, with Gerry trying to persuade Iain? But I am sure that if this episode was the bait, the introduction to Columbo, no one in their right mind would agree to do another 60+ episodes!!

    • You have the podcast genesis pretty much spot on and Last Salute was definitely not the hook!

    • Largo

      I’m still at work — but now I’m picturing a scene that involves all of us Columbo fans gathered together at a Glasgow pub. We’re discussing all things Columbo over a pint with our two hosts, Gerry and Iain! Wouldn’t this be wonderful, eh? 🙂

      • I think that would depend entirely on who was buying the drinks!

        • Largo

          Well, in my little scenario you both are buying all of us drinks. But the true-blue, democratic way of doing things is to have each of us buying a round of drinks, eh! Right? 🙂

  • digger01

    I’m happy to see that “Last Salute To The Commodore” has been properly and thoroughly skewered.

    • Largo

      As always, I’m very glad to hear from you, Digger! Even though I’m voting ‘Up’ on this post of yours, I still feel that Gerry and Iain didn’t really do as thorough a job as they could have done, eh. I wanted both of these gentlemen to attack “Last Salute To The Commodore” with two well sharpened, twin-blade battle axes and it didn’t happen. Blast! :.(

  • Largo

    Well, I’m afraid that I can’t give this week’s podcast a five-star rating. I wanted a full-fledged hatchet job on “Last Salute To The Commodore” and Gerry was the only one who was armed with a twin-blade battle axe. You let me down, Iain — you only equipped yourself with a Bowie knife and that’s just not going to get the job done, eh. I wanted to hear you say the words “Terrible!” and “It just doesn’t make any sense!” in repeated refrains while you butchered this episode thoroughly in your own podcast remarks. But you didn’t do this, Iain. You came across as being far too reasonable — someone who wanted to maintain some type of balance within the podcast universe. You actually had the unmitigated gaul to say that “Last Salute To The Commodore” wasn’t ‘as bad as [you were] lead to believe!??!’ Did I really hear you say this, Iain? Inconceivable!!!! 😉

    Gerry — you’ve done yourself proud: I actually heard you call “Last Salute To The Commodore” a ‘turd.’ You didn’t label this Columbo abomination as a ‘failed experiment’ or as a ‘spoof’ and you didn’t give this disastrous episode an ‘A for effort.’ Gerry, you called it as you saw it: “Last Salute To The Commodore” is crap! Unfortunately, Gerry, I’m going to have to deduct major points from your overall individual score due to the fact that you fell for Diane Baker’s terribly overindulgent performance as an addle-brained drunk. Gentlemen, Diane Baker’s ‘acting’ was a total embarrassment in this Columbo episode and the only good thing about it is that it’s a very ripe target for skewering. But neither of you were up to the task, eh. Why? Because, apparently, both of you would rather pick on a poor schoolgirl named Margaret Williams instead of a full-grown woman named Joanna Clay — a character performed by an actress that was apparently given the green light by her director to just ‘go for it’ and she only produced rather shameless over the top antics. So I’m afraid that you’ve both earned yet another Margaret Williams stare-down award. 😉

    • Haha, to be fair Gerry was very non-committal on his support for Diane Baker!

      • Largo

        “Fair” !??! I don’t want fairness, eh! I want unbridled rage against this “Last Salute To The Commodore” total train wreck of a Columbo episode! 😉

        And that includes going after all of the terribly misguided and cringe-worthy performances. I adore Diane Baker, but her performance in this craptastic Columbo episode is just plain awful. Patrick McGoohan is a solid director, in my humble opinion, but here he completely missed the boat (pun intended). This production is truly a huge black mark on McGoohan’s résumé. **SHUDDERS**

      • Largo

        Okay, okay. All kidding around put aside, this week’s podcast receives four out of five stars in my very humble opinion. In all honesty, I’m comparing it to the five-star rated (by me) and very enjoyable podcast to “Dagger Of The Mind.” Shoot! If only you had both skewered Joanna Clay just a little bit, eh! 🙂

    • Ian Baxter

      I also thought Iain held back a little with the criticism of this episode, but I’ll stick with 5 stars as it can’t have been easy being sat opposite an enraged Gerry. I imagine that there is an uncut version of the podcast that would demonstrate the full force and have us all slowly backing away from the normally calm host 🙂

      • Largo

        Well, I can totally identify with an enraged Gerry when we’re discussing this particular Columbo episode: his rage is my rage. Gerry’s remarks were also laugh out loud funny, eh! But I felt that Iain held back way too much. Iain still could have played the calm one, but I really wanted some scathing remarks from him that were punctuated with “Terrible” and “It doesn’t make any sense!” I just like hearing Iain say these words in his Scottish accent** and I was sorely disappointed that I didn’t hear them directed at this perfectly dreadful Columbo episode. That’s all.

        ** But not in a strange way, Iain. I don’t want to creep you out or anything.

    • digger01

      It’s so great to see that someone else appreciates the level of suck that is Diane Baker’s performance. They might as well have gotten Foster Brooks to play her role. It would have been more nuanced.

      If Jackson Gillis had mentioned that Joanna Clay also had Cerebral Palsy in addition to being an alcoholic, she might have hit the nail on the head.

      • Largo

        Ha — good ol’ Foster Brooks, I remember this dude! 🙂

        Despite Diane Baker’s terrible acting choices in this Columbo episode, I still feel sorry for her Joanna character. I really don’t like how some of the male characters are so abusive toward Joanna — including Columbo. Those bastards! I tell ya — if my wife were this far gone, I’d have her in an alcoholic rehabilitation program toot sweet!

        • Peter

          Foster Brooks! Wasn’t he on every celebrity roast from the 1970’s? I remember him calling Terry Savalis Terry “Saliva” in one.

  • Largo

    Well, we’ve made it through five Columbo DVD sets and now there’s only five more DVD sets to go, eh! 🙂

    • Mine all came in one big box!

      • Largo

        Well, I bought the original NBC series as the individual seasons were released by Universal Home Entertainment. Once Universal gets off of their lazy heinie and releases a region 1 blu-ray box set, I’ll be there with my hard earned dollars, eh!

  • Roberto

    Ha ha. Maybe we can all agree that Margaret Williams and Joanna Clay are two of the most “unpleasant” people in the Columbo universe, excepting murderers and murder victims. I for one would not want to spend much time with either of these two.

    In terms of a Columbo “bad acting” meme, it seems like Patricia Mattick and Diane Baker win the prize.

    • Largo

      Not so fast there, Roberto! I’ll defend “my girl” Margaret Williams any day of the week, eh! What you see is what you get with Margaret: a spoiled and petulant rich schoolgirl who despises her evil stepmother. However, Margaret teams up later with Columbo to take this evil murderess of a stepmother down and get her arrested. That’s an awesome win-win situation that totally redeems Margaret in my book (along with her freaking her stepmother out earlier by lying in wait and shooting that gun loaded with blanks). Yet another redeeming factor: Margaret met up with Columbo at Barney’s Beanery! I’m sorry, but I don’t see pathetic Joanna Clay doing anything at all like these awesome things that Margaret Williams accomplished. The only thing Joanna Clay can do is to maintain herself deep within an alcoholic fog. HA!

      Now you’ve gone and done it, Roberto! Margaret Williams is a ragin’ now! Margaret is ragin’ for a cagin’! Margaret is crying out and demanding a cage match and she’ll take on all comers, eh! So get in line, Roberto! She’ll take you on right after she’s done with Gerry and Iain. 😉

    • Largo

      Oh, just one more thing: as far as a Columbo “bad acting meme” I offer to all these two words: Shera Danese! BWAH HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😉

      • digger01

        Agreed! Unfortunately she had the inside track.

        Whenever I see an episode where Falk insisted on casting Shera:

        • Largo

          Indeed! The more lines she has to say in a given episode, the worse she gets, eh. Still, she does look rather fetching in “Fade In To Murder.” However, there is still is no ‘there’ there.

  • Largo

    I can picture just how some of this weirdness went down with the misogynistic director Patrick McGoohan at the helm:

    McGoohan: “No, no, no, Diane! You’re just playing to the rafters! I want you to play it to the heavens above! You hear me — to the heavens!”
    Diane Baker: “I don’t know. Won’t all of this be too much, Patrick? Don’t you think it will be too over the top?”
    McGoohan: “Diane — who is the director here?”

    Diane Baker: “Well, you are, Patrick. But …”
    McGoohan: “No buts! Now I want you to play it just like I told you to, alright? To the heavens, dammit!”
    Diane Baker: (looking through her script) “Hey, who added all of these ‘daddies’ to my script?”
    McGoohan: “I did! Is there a problem, Diane?”
    Diane Baker: “Joanna Clay is a grown woman, Patrick. I don’t think that she would …”
    McGoohan: “Dammit! You’re not being paid to think, Diane! You are being paid to act! Aw shit! Hitchcock was right …”
    Diane Baker: “So you think that I’m a cow? Well, you can go to hell, Patrick!”
    Peter Falk: “Lunch break! Lunch break! Let’s all regroup after lunch and let’s all try to have some fun when we get back here, okay?”
    McGoohan:”Quite — I’m all for fun!”

    [Everyone returns to the set after the lunch break]

    McGoohan: “Okay — where’s our female Foster Brooks?** Female Foster Brooks to the center stage, please!”
    Diane Baker: “What?”
    McGoohan: “Let’s all have some fun! You like fun, don’t you, Diane? Now go for it! F-U-N, fun!”
    Diane Baker: (shaking her head) “Oh, dear …”
    McGoohan: “Now what!??!”
    Peter Falk: (going over to Diane Baker and whispering in her ear) “Patrick is my good friend and you’re just going to have to trust him, Diane. Can you please do that for me? Please, Diane.”
    Diane Baker: “Oh, alright! Nobody will remember this crap in five years anyway. Now, let’s all have some fun!”

    ** Thank you for this one, Digger! 🙂

    • Ian Baxter

      Great stuff Largo… but you are really stretching our imagination when you ask us to believe there was actually a script!! 😉

      • Largo

        There actually was a script, Ian! Believe it or not, there was one — that is, until the extremely egotistical director, Patrick McGoohan, threw this script completely out. Once more, I can picture in my mind’s eye the following confrontation between Susan Foster and Patrick McGoohan:

        McGoohan: “What exactly are you doing to this scene, Miss Foster?”
        Susan Foster: “My character is interacting with Lieutenant Columbo and showing him how to prepare for meditation.”
        McGoohan: (snapping) “I didn’t ask you what you were doing IN this scene, I asked you what are you doing TO this scene!?!”
        Susan Foster: (rolling her eyes) “Oh, gosh, dad — maybe you’d better tell me what I’m doing to this scene!”
        McGoohan: “What you are doing TO this scene, Miss Foster, is ruining it! You’re absolutely ruining it! Why are you so cheery and smiling and so sickeningly sweet toward Peter? Where is all of this nicey-nice drivel coming from, eh?”
        Susan Foster: “Lisa King is a very joyful person.”
        McGoohan: “Oh — is that a fact? And just how would you know this, Miss Foster?”
        Susan Foster: “I know because that’s what I wrote up in Lisa King’s character biography that I prepared. I made copies for everyone — didn’t you even read it?”
        McGoohan: “No, I didn’t, Miss Foster. I don’t have time for such ‘method acting’ poppycock!”
        Susan Foster: “Well, I do, Mr. McGoohan! If you had taken the time to read my Lisa King character biography, you would’ve learned that Lisa is just naturally a very joyful human being. Lisa is the exact opposite of the Commodore. The Commodore is an old, stoic-like fusspot who is completely humorless. Just what exactly does Lisa King see in this old, stodgy fossil? It took me some time to wrap my head around that one! So I came up with the ‘opposites attract’ syndrome. Hence, Lisa King has a very joyful and carefree spirit in comparison … I also made some notations in my script.” (she walks slightly off set and gathers up her script and takes it over to McGoohan).
        McGoohan: (taking the script roughly in hand and suddenly tearing it up) “There! That will put an end to this nonsense, Miss Foster! Now get back to your place next to Peter and we’ll start this scene over. Now I want no joy, no smiles, nothing of that sort. All I want is an even toned voice, with no inflection and a blank expression upon your face!”
        Susan Foster: “You’re not a director! You’re a [bleeping] dictator! All you want is an automaton! So why don’t you just go get yourself a [bleeping] mannequin, Mr. McGoo!”
        McGoohan: “Oh — that would be a vast improvement, believe me!”
        Susan Foster: (looking at Peter Falk) “This is total bullshit! I want to talk to the producers right now! Better yet, why don’t we go and get Leonard Freeman** to take over this production — at least he knows how to treat actors and he hires decent directors! Where’s my agent!” (she storms off of the set).
        McGoohan: “Quite! Alright — we’ll move on to scene 24. Peter and Peter and the two dummy cops on the set right now!”
        Assistant: “The rewrites for that scene aren’t finished yet, Mr. McGoohan.”
        McGoohan: Rewrites! Who cares!?! Now everybody take your scripts in hand and tear them up into little bits. From now on we’re going to just wing it! Places everyone and ………. action!”

        ** Leonard Freeman was the creator and executive producer of Hawaii Five-O.

  • saltyessentials

    I’m weighing in as someone who enjoys pulling this one out once in awhile just to enjoy the weirdness. I remember the first time the missus and I watched this. The episode ended and there was no sound but crickets chirping. Finally, I said “Huh. That was weird.” “Yeah,” says the missus. “Do you think they knew they were doing weird, or just realized it later”? And we still don’t know.

    Definitely not Columbo. And not even a very good whodunit, regardless of who’s show it was. If you’d taken Peter Falk away completely and called it “The Mac Ablinsky Mystery Hour,” it would have been pretty forgettable. For all that, it was filled with strong actors with proven track records. I guess I have to go along with a few others here and say the failure was with the direction. Which is also weird, because I’ve seen McGoohan direct quite well, in my opinion. So… Huh.

    But, I’m glad it’s not “The Mac Ablinsky Mystery Hour,” because it’s really Falk being here that makes this fun for me to watch. I get the feeling he’s as incredulous as I am, getting from one end of this to the other.

    I think the Personal-Space-Invading-Columbo is hilarious, at least in Vaughn’s scenes–loved the look on his face both times Columbo is mauling him. The meditation space-invading was a little weird though. I thought the yelling over the noise in the ship yard was great, too, but mostly because I imagine it being a situation where they couldn’t control the noise level at the shoot and it was all happening impromptu. I doubt that’s how it went down, but I imagine it that way every time I watch this.

    There are a lot more little moments like this I enjoy through the whole thing, mixes of weirdly interesting direction choices and actors having so much fun they’re breaking character, etc. It’s like I have to step back from this one to get the enjoyment, though. If I approached it as “I’m sitting down to watch my beloved character, Columbo, do his thing,” I’m in trouble. But sitting down to watch a favorite actor do his thing in an unconventional way, well, that’s fun for me.

    Cally me crazy. (Largo.) 😉

  • Comes With Wings

    I’m not saying that everyone is wrong… but the Netflix captions, as well as IMDB, identify Dennis Dugan’s character as Theodore Albinski, not Ablinski. Okay, everyone is wrong. 🙂

    For me, this episode works as proof-of-concept in reverse. If anyone still needed convincing after thirty-five episodes that the inverted detective story conceit was the way to go, they only had to watch this whodunnit to know for sure. It also works to elevate the middling episodes to greater status, as, compared to this, even some of the weak ones look fantastic.

    For all its faults, though, the episode does create some interesting trivia. Fred Draper is the only actor to play the killer and then return as a one-line character in the very next episode. He was also instrumental in the gotcha moment for another killer (“A Deadly State of Mind”). And Robert Vaughn becomes the only actor to play a killer in one episode and a victim in another. (John Chandler played killer and victim in a single episode — “Publish or Perish” — which isn’t quite the same thing.)

    • Nice catch with Dugan’s character’s name. I made an edit to my original comment, and now no one will ever be the wiser…. 😉

      • Comes With Wings

        Thanks! I’m still cringing at the the thought of watching “The Mac Albinsky Mystery Hour!” Probably a little too close to “Richie Brockelman, Private Eye” for comfort. 😉 (And I’m old enough to remember that.)

  • Red Hobbes

    I watched this episode before I listened to the podcast, and it fit my memory of a show that was weird but not horrifyingly bad. Plenty of missteps and odd decisions, but I think the initial premise was sound: what happens when Columbo reaches the wrong conclusion? However… after listening and finding myself agreeing more and more with Iain & Gerry, I came to the conclusion that this was almost a comedy botch, as tho McGoohan was trying to spoof the tropes and conventions of Columbo. If you take it as that, it’s not bad. It’s not anywhere close to the best, but it’s not the worst either, I reserve that spot for Rest In Peace Mrs Columbo.

    And Mac couldn’t carry a lunch box, let alone an episode. If the studio wanted to replace Peter Falk they should’ve just renamed the show “Kramer”, and given us all more Bruce Kirby.

  • Jack Ritter

    My wife and I saw the episode last night. We were astonished at how atypically preposterous the actors behaved, especially Peter Falk. Half the time he was sitting on the floor, playing in an imaginary sand box, or he was stooped. Not Columbo-stooped, I mean jumbo-shrimp-stooped. His speech was agonizingly drunken and his movements were that of a gibbon with Parkinson’s.

    There were some incomprehensible spasms of emotion. Diane Baker, a fine actress, playing a maudlin drunk, routinely emitted ghastly amalgams of regret, sarcasm and mirth. These operatic sweeps of effort didn’t communicate feelings that made any sense, given the plot. The Swanny Swanson character erupted with maniac cackling several times, for no discernible reason.

    John Dehner (The Commodore) and Robert Vaughn (his son-in-law) were apparently unable to fulfill their roles as bad actors, so I guess they must be bad actors.

    In the end, Sergeant George Kramer and the rookie Mac join Columbo in his sandbox, complete with crayons and paper dolls (“SAILS.”)

  • Daniel

    I didn’t mind the shows flow or anything really until the killer has loose lips sink the ship syndrome. So it was expected, put everyone in the room and someone will say something that will incriminate themselves. It was a lazy way out of an ending and could have been done better. These forums would be hailing the quite genius of this episode instead of it’s faults.

  • Anne H

    Hated, hated, hated this one the first time I saw it. I watched it again recently and made up a back story for it, Columbo was shot in the line of duty and was sedated for surgery, this episode is the dream he had while under the anesthesia.
    This has been my favorite Podcast so far. So, some good has come from this terrible episode of Columbo!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Anne. This was one of Gerry’s big rants (see also, Undercover and No Time to Die!).

  • Steve Cloutier

    As a big fan of the tv show MASH I remember Joshua Bryant (Wayne Taylor) as the recurring charater Scully (a love interest of Margaret Houlihan in the show).

  • dtrieber

    I was researching the word ‘scotch’ and Iain is absolutely right, in no way does it refer to a person of Scottish heritage. It is the name of a whiskey made in Scotland, but sometimes it spills over and is used for things related to Scotland. For example, in Canada we have a brand name product called Scotch Tape, and of course the packaging is adorned with tartan. There’s a child’s game called Hopscotch, in this case scotch meaning a line drawn on the ground. And of course there’s butterscotch candies, scotch meaning to score or nick into pieces. Thanks for letting me know that. I know your a proud Scotsman, but you have to admit, that joke Columbo told about his nephew not knowing how to play a note on the bagpipes but no one noticed, was kinda funny. 😉

  • Lee Thomas

    Watched thus episode last night, I’m doing a simutanious marathon of Columbo episodes and podcasts. (Great work lads, thoroughly enjoying your work. Even though I don’t always agree on some things, but thats just personal opinion.) I haven’t heard this podcasts episode yet but I will later today. But after watching the episode last night I have a good idea on what to expect in this weeks podcast. All I put down in my notes of the show was “Is Columbo stoned on f***ing crack during tjis case”. Lol. Totally odd character behaviour. It’s funny, I’ve done several Columbo marathons during the years and I’d only just noticed this drastic change in character. I think the reason being is your podcasts have discussed odd out of character behaviour in the past, so it was really noticable this time. Once again keep up the great work lads in your future podcasts. I’m also loving your new Jonathan Creek ones. Take care…. Lee