Columbo Goes to the Guillotine

Episode 46 – Columbo Goes to the Guillotine

The forty fourth episode of Columbo was titled Columbo Goes to the Guillotine and was the first episode of the show’s eighth season and the first episode of its revival. A phony psychic conspires to win a government contract and kills for revenge along the way. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the start of Columbo’s revival and how this new episode fits in with what came before.



Peter Falk and Columbo made a long-anticipated return to the television screen in early 1989 after an 11-year hiatus. Anthony Andrews was the first actor to portray a killer in the new run, his so-called ‘psychic’, Elliott Blake, murdering Anthony Zerbe‘s Max Dyson with Dyson’s own guillotine; an act of revenge for Max’s decision to sell Elliott out to Ugandan prison authorities in exchange for an early release some years previous.


Karen Austin played a key supporting role as Blake’s partner in science, deception and love, Dr. Paula Hall, while Alan Fudge appeared as a military official named Harrow, keen to establish the legitimacy of Blake’s apparent powers. Michael Bacall appeared as Tommy, a young magician keen to help Columbo solve the mystery, while additional depth was added by James Greene as magician Bert Spindler, Dana Andersen as Dori and Robert Costanzo as Sgt. Russo.


Leo Penn returned for his third and final episode as director, making this the second consecutive episode he had helmed, albeit with something of a break in-between. The story was the first of three written by William Read Woodfield, perhaps better known for penning twenty four episodes of Mission: Impossible.


During the episode we pondered how this episode was anticipated and received on release. If you have thoughts on that or on any other aspect of Columbo Goes to the Guillotine, 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.


Columbo Goes to the Guillotine was released in 1989. It is 98 minutes long and originally aired on the ABC network. This episode is not available on Netflix, but can be found on the Season 8 or complete collection DVD box sets from Universal.


The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

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

  • Ooh, the first of the revival Episodes! Can’t wait to listen. Hopefully I’ll have a chance after work, tonight….

    • Moderate-to-long one this week!

      • Nothing wrong with a longer podcast from time to time, if the conversation is a good one. And it always is. 🙂

        • Sure enough, guys, that was a fantastic podcast. Really enjoyed your back-and-forth. The extra 30 minutes flew by unnoticed. Excellent work!

  • Very interesting episode. Gone are the intro snippets and familiar titles and in comes the ‘contemporary’ look. It seemed like an age until Frank made his entry, but when he did there was a nice cheesy theme tune to accompany him. In terms of the storyline and the actors, this was above par for me, although I have to say that Anthony Zerbe always seems to come to a grizzly end whatever he appears in (remember License to Kill). There was some genuine ‘cover your eyes’ moments in this episode which was enjoyable in quite a few ways. A masterclass of acting from Anthony Andrews and lovely interplay between him and PF. Guys, are we now going to compile a top 10 from this ‘revival series’ or compile the top 10 from overall episodes?

    • Funny you should mention the idea of this set having its own top ten. I was struggling with the idea earlier after watching the show.

      These later movies have such a different feel from the original series overall (for me, at least), I have a hard time comparing them directly to the older set. A cinematic product of the 1970s and one largely of the 1990s are certainly two different animals. In that sense, it might be easier to do a separate list of favorites.

      When I think of pulling a list of favorites from the entire run and as I prefer the original series’ look and feel over the later ones, I wonder if many of the newer set would end up with a lower rating, just because they are different from the old set.

      I haven’t decided which way to go yet. But my gut feel is to keep everything together as one set and let the newer episodes land where they will. Try to appreciate the differences that two separate decades bring to the show and base my favorites purely off of personal enjoyment.

      • Largo

        I already made a Top Ten List for the revival series eight months ago in the “Dagger Of The Mind” discussion thread. But here it is again for your perusal:

        1. It’s All In The Game
        2. Agenda For Murder
        3. Rest In Peace, Mrs. Columbo
        4. Death Hits The Jackpot
        5. Columbo Cries Wolf
        6. Columbo Goes To College
        7. Sex And The Married Detective
        8. Ashes To Ashes
        9. Uneasy Lies The Crown
        10. Columbo Likes The Nightlife

        • Sounds like you’ve settled on the “keep ’em separate” route, Largo. Honestly, it’s been too long since I went through these revival shows. I’ll have to compile a list along the way….

          • Largo

            Understood and I’m totally cool with that, eh! My Top Ten will probably shuffle a bit as I revisit these revival episodes along with their respective podcasts. 🙂

        • Justin Eastman

          I would have liked Death hits the jackpot more but I couldnt stand Rip Torn in it
          but im surprised Columbo likes the nightlife is on here, I found it to be by far the worst episode of all time

          • Largo

            The reason why “Columbo Likes The Nightlife” is on my Top Ten list can be answered in just two words: Jennifer Sky!

  • Largo

    My reaction to “Columbo Goes To The Guillotine” was exactly the same as my reaction to Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979): I waited all of these years for this? “Columbo Goes To The Guillotine” actually gets worse the longer it goes on and I found it to be a total bore. For me, Anthony Andrews has zero charisma and I kept thinking what magic Jack Cassidy could have done in this role if he had been alive to portray this phony psychic. So, in other words, this episode makes me yearn for the far superior, “Now You See Him.” To add insult to injury, the Columbo producers hired a punk kid (Michael Bacall) who has all of the grating and annoying presence of a Wesley Crusher from ST: TNG. EEGAH! Be seeing you!

    • Dr. B. Crusher

      Enough already! No-one insults my boy and gets away with it. Prepare for the Crusher treatment.

      • Largo

        Oooooh! I’m shaking in my boots here, Beverly! Do your worst, Dr. Crusher! 😉

    • swiftbosox

      Very disappointed with the revival premier..letdown from what we loved about Colombo.

    • tyty

      Speaking of “Now You See Him”, I think I found a plot hole or at least small oversight in this episode. Columbo states he’s never seen a trick like that guillotine before, but a magic shop employee demonstrated just such a trick for him (albeit smaller scale) in “Now You See Him”.

  • Just going through the show notes. I’ve yet to listen to the interview with Michael Bacall, but had no idea he went on to do anything else in front of the camera, let alone as a writer. I do have to say, his character in Columbo grated on me, and the idea of Columbo getting a prepubescent kid’s help in solving a riddle that a whole building full of scientists and government officials couldn’t see through, well….

    Iain, do you read German? The link on Leo Penn looks interesting, but the Google Translation of the German is muddled enough that I’m not quite sure what the article is trying to say. Penn was possibly part of a WW II group that bombed Berlin?

    • Largo

      My feelings exactly, Salty! ‘Tommy’ is the Wesley Crusher-like know-it-all for Columbo here and is just as irritating. But I also think Tommy is a “chump” — he can’t even do that stupid card trick without revealing that he has an entire deck of identical cards! Humph!

      • Yeah, and having said little kid come along with him to provide the Gotcha stretched my suspension of disbelief beyond its breaking point, I’m afraid.

        • Largo

          Same with me, Salty! All that kid was missing was his ever faithful dog to lend him a helping paw! Arf, arf! 🙁

          • Well, Bacall was in an episode of that new Lassie series later the same year….

          • Largo

            Ha! I didn’t know that, Salty! How perfectly ironic, eh! 🙂

      • Dr. B. Crusher

        Now hang on a minute, buster. I think I need to take down your particulars.

        • Largo

          If your pen is handy, Beverly, here they are: Emilio Largo, ex-SPECTRE operative now working for military intelligence and in deep cover black ops for the USA; eccentric multi-billionaire researcher in quantum theory and zero-point energy projects; legal guardian to the beautiful and talented Margaret Williams, whom I rescued from a living hell inside of a parallel universe known simply as The Columbo Zone.

    • My German is awful! Penn was certainly active in WWII and I think even the bad translation gives a flavour of the story. In truth, sometimes it’s hard to find something when someone is on for the third time and this hinted at being interesting, so I ran with it.

      • lol I understand it might be slim pickings by now for Mr. Penn. And the story fit perfectly into what I like best about the show note links–widening our view of these folks beyond their obvious IMDB credits.

        And my guess is your awful German is better than my complete absence of German…. 🙂

    • What did you think of the Woodfield link?

      • I thought that was mighty interesting. His background adds a new dimension to the whole magician plot for this episode. And I thought his link to Mission Impossible was great as well. My wife and I still pull that series out, with all its cheese, for a day long marathon of several episodes. I’d never really thought about how much sleight of hand that show embodied, beyond the obvious, until reading this article.

      • Largo

        Please pardon my interjection here. Thank you so much for all of these fascinating links in the show notes. But that Woodfield link oversimplifies things. The Mission: Impossible series isn’t about the adventures of just Rollin Hand, it is about Dan Briggs’ — and later Jim Phelps’ — small group of experts and their ‘impossible’ adventures as an entire team. ‘Magic’ and ‘illusion’ are only small parts of the IMF adventures: a better analogy would describe them as “the Big Con.” Another item that this article forgot to mention was the fact that William Read Woodfield had a writing AND a producing partner on this series: Allan Balter. Woodfield and Balter were a major influence on Mission: Impossible‘s first three seasons. But once they were both promoted as producers, they became too controlling and arrogant. This was the main reason that executive-producer and series creator, Bruce Geller, ended up firing both of these men.

  • Ian Baxter

    Fair enough, I confess, I’m guilty of romanticising the original run… but even so… this episode is dreadful!

    The humour doesn’t work (not even sawing the coffin in half would save that funeral scene!). The plot built around the unbelievable para-psycho-guff is, well, unbelievable para-psycho-guff. The killer is a chinless unemotional bore with a confusing backstory involving magic, love and betrayal in a Ugandan prison (what!!). Columbo seems to have exchanged a psychological battle of wits with a drawn out labouring of the points he tries to make. The gotcha was preposterous and idiotic! Aaargh! Boring, grey, dull, insipid and bland!

    Thankfully the podcast was anything but bland (your bleep machine made me jump a mile!). I’m a little puzzled by your criticising the stupidity on display and then quickly calling it enjoyable and a good comeback? But it may be that we’ll be agreeing to disagree over this one.

    • Largo

      They did what!?! And what’s all this about a BLEEP machine? Well, I’m off to listen to this week’s podcast, eh! 🙂

    • To be fair, Ian, we had similar criticisms of some original episodes as well. Guillotine wouldn’t slot in as a top tier episode in any era, but it’s not significantly worse than some of the older middle-of-the-pack episodes in my opinion. Put it next to Matter of Honor or Old Fashioned Murder maybe.

  • Largo

    Well, I’m with Ian Baxter on this one: Gerry and Iain both did a great job highlighting all of the sheer idiocy contained in Columbo Goes To The Guillotine within their splendid podcast, but failed to call it a hot mess of an episode. Instead, they described what I’d label ‘Columbo Goes Into The Crapper’ as “thoroughly enjoyable” and a “good comeback” episode. The mind boggles! I was happy too hear both of you gents rip on this Columbo ABC Mystery Movie, but I’m rather perplexed at how you both enjoyed this one as much as you did. Be that as it may, I still love you guys and to each his own as far as the opinions go, eh! Well, Iain — I’m guessing that you might be thinking that these new Columbo movies couldn’t get any worse, huh? Wait until next week’s episode — where I feel things DO get worse! Be seeing you!

    • This is what I was interested in – I rather suspected people would dislike this because after waiting ten years it was firmly in the middle (ok, I’ll give you lower-middle) tier overall. In terms of finding it enjoyable, I have to say that I did. It was fascinating to see how the format worked in changed times and the episode was very much of its period.

      • Still haven’t gotten to the podcast, but I’m in agreement, calling this a mid-tier episode.

        It has a very 80s flavor and sensibility that I’m tempted to give it low marks for, but that would really just be giving the decade low marks, not the show, because it really is just a product of its time, like the 70s version was. (Holy run-on sentence, Batman!)

        When I allow it to be what it is and focus on the rest of it, it shows up as a middle of the road episode, regardless of its decade.

        Although I reserve the right to bristle whenever Columbo sets up a Gotcha that involves nothing more than luck as to whether he lives or dies., regardless of which decade he does it in. 🙂

  • Roberto

    I have not yet listened to the podcast yet (looking forward to it!).

    But this Columbo episode/movie is god-awful. Alright, that is too strong. Let’s just say “Dagger of the Mind” is better and more enjoyable (sorry Gerry).

    The antagonist was dull and uninteresting, despite the back-story. The crime, the plot, the detection, all the other bits, border on being terrible. They had ten fricking years to write and make a good Columbo movie and this is the crap that they come up with.

    So maybe I should be a trifle more forgiving regarding the occasional sub-par episodes during the original run.

    • The episode suffers most, in my opinion, from being so much worse than Now You See Him on such a similar theme. It doesn’t stand up to that obvious comparison. It does have things going for it though.

  • hungbunny

    I normally rewatch each episode before listening to your podcast, but that might have to change now that we’re into the reboot. Parts of this episode were so tedious – particularly the scenes in which Columbo recreates Blake’s “magic” tricks – that I had to fast forward through them. Mind you, if you think Anthony Andrews was a rubbish villain, just wait for George Wendt and Billy Connolly…

    • I won’t hear a word said against Billy Connolly!!!! Though I’ve yet to see him in Columbo.

      • I (Gerry) will though. Connolly stopped being funny in 1987!

        • hungbunny

          I’d go further and say he hasn’t been funny since he put his banjo away! On the subject of Scottish comedians – this would have been a much better episode if Jerry Sadowitz had played Elliot Blake, although your bleep machine would have gone into meltdown…

          • Sadowitz as a Columbo murderer. That I (Gerry) would pay to have seen.
            Columbo: Just one more thing Sir…
            Sadowitz: No you little **** just **** ***. Or I will ****** **** ****. You ****

          • hungbunny

            A late night special perhaps, co-starring Dylan Moran as Cobumbo.

      • hungbunny

        Well he doesn’t appear until the penultimate episode so we can stay friends for a while, but I will have several words to say against him then!

  • Thanks Doyle. That’s some great trivia too!

  • Simon

    I really enjoyed this podcast – the ‘columbo’s return after ten years/Twitter/bleep machine’ discussion had me cracking up! Big fan of the Columbo podcast, makes me wish the was more Columbo.

  • Great trivia, thanks John.

  • batman4oz

    This was one of the last Columbo episodes that I worked on! I also worked on several in the 70s…one with Ruth Gordon a memorable one.
    Having also worked on The Magician, with Bill Bixby, it was interesting to learn How the magic ‘tricks’ were actually done!
    I agree that the quality of these stories deteriorated over the years, sadly…the final ones being truly awful. Dated, yes…but the Good ones will forever be Classic Television…Classic Columbo!
    Bruce Wayne

  • batman4oz
    • That’s ok. I think folks like Largo and Ian might be interested to see these.

  • dtrieber

    If you like Columbo and Jonathan Creek, I guarantee you would like The Mentalist.