First broadcast: 1973
“This Columbo episode proves, politicians are just as likely to be evil murdering scum as anyone“
Election day is rapidly approaching and Senate candidate Nelson Hayward is only too aware that it's going to be a tight battle against his opponent.
In order to help, his Campaign Manager Harry Stone has arranged a plan to boost the votes - a phoney series of threats on Hayward's life, convincing enough to ensure Hayward gets a huge amount of police protection and, of course, lots and lots of publicity.
However it comes at a price. Stone insists that Hayward breaks off his clandestine relationship with Linda Johnson who works as secretary to Hayward's wife. Happily married is the only way he's going to be.
Not impressed, Hayward concocts a plan to get Stone - a man whom he has come to hate - out of the way for good, and make the threats on his life look more real.
From his hotel suite, he sends his police guard to the lobby for some cigars. Hayward tells Stone he's going to break it off with Linda in person but he needs cover. Swapping jackets, he tells Stone to drive off to Hayward's beach house knowing the police will follow. Meanwhile he'll drive off to Linda.
In reality he drives off to the beach house too, and waits for Stone there in the garage way. On his arrival he flips on the lights and kills him. Once dead he replaces Stone's watch with a new one, changes the time and smashes it. He then rushes home for a surprise birthday party for his wife.
Later he phones the police, and proclaims that the non-existent gang who issue death threats, have actually carried one out.
Columbo is at the dentist when he hears the news.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
The fun for Columbo begins very early on because ultimately little about the murder makes sense.
Various things don't fit. Stone's clothing is tough and reliable but the watch found on him was cheap and shoddy.
The murder happened in pitch black for starters as the street light was broken. The murderer could have driven in behind Stone and used his headlights, however then the angle of the shot would have been wrong. And they had to have followed the car rather than wait, because who knew anyway was driving to the beachhouse?
And why did Hayward order a new jacket identical to the one that Stone died in?
Convinced that the whole death threats are false, he goes around trying to find out how and is nudged on by the fact that there's no phone near the beachhouse where anyone could have made the phone call to the police. The only one is at a petrol station which was closed as they ran out of fuel!
It's back at the hotel on election day that he gets his evidence.
Despite the hotel suite supposedly being a secure area, Hayward has smuggled in a gun with a silencer. Before going off to cast his vote, Hayward shoots through the window from the hotel balcony, and smuggles the gun out again.
Hours later on he uses a firecracker to make it look like he's just been shot. With just one flaw. Playing up to the fact that the police think he's faking everything, he points at the bullet hole and asks them if they still think he's faking it! Match the bullet in the wall with that that killed Stone and what's the betting it's from the same gun? Well?
Unfortunately for him, Columbo has him big style. There is no bullet in the wall. Columbo had removed it three hours before...
Now that's seriously good Columbo.
Convolutedness of the murder
You can usually tell how good a Columbo episode is going to be, on the basis of how much effort it takes to get the person killed in the first place. And boy does this take a lot.
Extra points have to go for the fact that the murder happens whilst the murderer is supposed to be under police protection, although the way Hayward actually manages to allude them doesn't exactly inspire police confidence!
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
I think you can guess this one. Here you have a politician who doesn't think his fake story of death threats and murder is being believed! Which of course it isn't because the story is as likely as anyone claiming Cher has never had plastic surgery.
However being a good politician, Hayward does a very good politician act of covering it up and being diplomatic - okay he's no Tony Blair at it but you get the idea.
It's only as the end nears and he's getting increasingly desperate that the frustration really shows.
The smug-richness factor
Now you know this is going to rank high when a politician is involved - it must be one of the smuggest professions on the planet after all. And in America you need to be rich to be elected - I'm sure we all await the day with baited breath when the US President is someone who spent most of their lives in the slums trying to get out, although the chances of that ever happening seem rather slim.
Quality of sub-plot
There's so much going on in this episode that man there's barely any time for a sub-plot. However Columbo does go to the dentist - something that's always worth seeing. The dentist is, of course, Italian and spends most of his time muttering on about everyone thinking Italians are just the Mafia and nothing else.
There's also a lovely little piece where two policemen are doing random spot checks on cars - naturally Columbo's vehicle fails...
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
Ah this is what you want - quite a few. She's naturally a big fan of Hayward, although Columbo naturally seems highly reluctant to reveal his own thoughts on who he's going to vote for!
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
We do see Columbo drive a pick-up-truck but that's about it.
Was anyone given sedatives?
Hmm. No... Don't think so...
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
No playing with the format here!
Appearances by the Regular Cast
There's wonderful moment when Columbo goes to Hayward's tailor. Who is of course Italian and played by Vito Scotti! Whilst not one of the finest Falk/Scotti double acts, it is a pleasure to watch their antics as Columbo attempts to get himself a new jacket. Can you imagine Columbo wearing a smart jacket? No, nor can I...
Politics and TV drama don't normally mix. Characters normally live in a little bubble, where no one ever takes an interest in the stuff. However as this Columbo episode proves, politicians are just as likely to be evil murdering scum as anyone.
Naturally Hayward's political allegiances are never discussed which itself could lead to hours of fun for all the family as everyone gathers round the table and tries to work out if he's a Democrat or Republican. I know what I reckon...
That aside there's lots to enjoy in this episode and the way Columbo finally nails Hayward is a moment of sheer brilliance and the way Columbo gets his murderer is just far too clever for words.