First broadcast: 1974
“Well you've got Johnny Cash, and he gets to sing!“
Johnny Cash plays country music singing evangelist Tommy Brown with sell out shows, but who rarely sees the money as his evangelist wife Edna funnels it all to pay for what she promises will be the greatest temple in the whole of America built for the Lost Souls Crusades. She promises to reveal that he slept with under-age singer Mary-Ann in motels if he quits.
Whilst flying from one concert to LA, Tommy drugs Edna and Mary-Anne with sleeping pills in a Thermos of coffee, then leaps out of the plane by a stashed parachute, leaving the plane to crash on the mountain. He then throws himself down a cliff to make it look like he was injured in the crash.
Naturally Columbo appears on the crash scene which looks like a mechanical failure in bad weather. But which, of course, Columbo storms all over the place looking at, and getting in the way of investigators and a news crew.
Initially Columbo seems less convinced than normal that foul play is afoot, but it's the persuasiveness of Edna's brother that starts him digging. Especially once offered a bowl of chilli. And even more so once he finds out that Tommy was once in the Parachute Regiment of the Air Force.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
In a moment of sheer brilliance, Columbo goes off to the people who make the backing singer's nylon robes over at the temporary HQ for the Lost Souls Crusades, and discovers that they're missing several rolls of nylon - which could have been used to make a parachute!
Then he discovers that Tommy Brown arranged for a new arrangement of his hit song a whole week before the murder. So how did he know he was going to replace Mary-Anne as a backing singer?
But ultimately Columbo sets a trap to ensure that Tommy goes off to recover his parachute which he'd left on the mountain, by persuading Tommy that a missing Thermos bottle of coffee needs to be found as someone may have been trying to murder Tommy. Columbo proclaims he's going to search the mountain, which would of course uncover the missing parachute as well.
Caught in the trap, Columbo catches Tommy, parachute in hand.
Convolutedness of the murder
Well he does stage a plane crash and drugs two passengers. I think we can call it just a bit convoluted.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Barely. Tommy seems to quite like Columbo, and never gets cross with him, perhaps cos he believes Columbo's line about police bosses wanting all the missing gaps filled.
When finally caught out, there's even some respect and thankfullness that he's finally caught.
The smug-richness factor
As murderers go, Tommy Brown is likeable by all. But then he's not rich and therefore reduces his smugness abilities quite dramatically!
Quality of sub-plot
Absolutely no sub plot. Shame.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
First mention straight away as soon as he his the crime scene. And when an undertaker tries to sell Columbo a funeral plan!
And of course Mrs Columbo's a big fan of this popular singer! She even gets to go to a concert mid way through the episode! Rock and roll!
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Well clearly a bit about planes! He also gets the chance to try chilli made with squirrel meat, and that a Thermos flask doesn't burn in a fire. But most of all, Columbo gets to learn about parachutes - how you fold them, how you make them and how many square yards of material you'd need to make one. And what would happen if you made one slightly smaller than normal...
Was anyone given sedatives?
The main female characters were both killed by sedatives in coffee! Not the obvious way sleeping pills are dished out in a Columbo episode, but a good one.
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
Nothing particular. All pretty much above board.
Appearances by the Regular Cast
The wonderful Vito Scotti is on hand to play an Italian undertaker to do the statutory Falk-Scotti comedy double act. Although if he's not playing a waiter, he's not being used properly if you ask me.
Well you've got Johnny Cash, and he gets to sing! Copiously. Often for no apparent reason. Well okay, there is a reason. I mean imagine you're a director and you've got the legendary Johnny Cash there. What are you going to do? Get him to sit in a bath of beans, or sing a lot?
Hmm. Actually I'm tempted by the beans.
Anyway, that's just part of the episode, which is a great example of Columbo where he gets to truly shine. The murderer is caught out in a classic way - the laying of a subtle but obvious trap, and there's a great bit at the end where you're not quite sure Columbo's going to get his man. But of course... he does.