First broadcast: 1975
“Episodes where the murder is rather accidental can, frankly, be deeply unsatisfying but this is not one of them.“
Nadia Donner has been having psychiatric treatment for years with a succession of different doctors. The latest is Dr Marcus Collier who is also writing a follow up to his previous best seller. And as head of the university's Institute of Behavioral Studies, he's using drugs to help hypnotise the wife of rich businessman Karl Donner in order to reveal information for that book. Just to make sure she remains happy to be hypnotised, he's also having an affair with her.
After a session under hypnosis Marcus arranges with Nadia to meet later that evening at the Donner beach house which would normally be unused in the very early spring. They can be alone, safe from prying eyes.
At least that's the plan. When Marcus arrives he walks in to find Nadia and Karl waiting to confront him. After a heated discussion Marcus attempts to walk out, taking Nadia with him. In the ensuing argument and struggle, they fight and Marcus whacks Karl with a poker from the fireplace. Karl dies almost instantly.
With Nadia in hysterics, Marcus tries to form an excuse for the murder. He tells Nadia to call the police giving her a cover story to use. Two men broke into the house, demanded money and killed her husband in a struggle. It happened at 7pm, an hour and a half later than the actual killing, and he rushes off to the university to provide himself with an alibi, almost knocking over a blind man and guide dog as he drives off.
Some time later, the police arrive and Columbo begins to take Nadia's statement and she attempts to concoct a more rounded story. However Columbo quickly begins to see flaws in the story with the most obvious one being that the says how she heard the car drive off but not arrive which would have been impossible given that an arriving car would have been noisy enough to be heard through the music the couple were apparently listening to.
As he pushes deeper and deeper he becomes more and more convinced that she's holding something back at tells Marcus of his belief. Marcus says that he believes Nadia, but suggests she undergoes a lie detector test which would allow Columbo to know if she was telling the truth or not. He suggests this to Nadia, telling her that he can hypnotise her into believing the story she would give, therefore meaning she'd pass the lie detector. Instead he actually hypnotises her into wanting to go swimming when he gives her a codeword by phone. Later that evening, during a party at his house and with a visiting Columbo in the room, he rings and Nadia jumps from her apartment balcony towards the swimming pool several floors below.
Although he's supposed to think it's suicide, Columbo quickly spots some odd behaviour. Why was Nadia naked when she jumped? Why were her clothes folded up neatly? Her valuables rolled up in a scarf and tucked in a show? All behaviour expected from those who had gone swimming. He suspects hypnosis, but someone couldn't be hypnotised into committing suicide. Normally anyway. The autopsy reveals drugs in Nadia's bloodstream that could be used to allow it.
With Marcus a prime suspect, Columbo still has a problem. He has no proof - his only witness to Karl's murder is blind and therefore couldn't see anything. And as for Nadia's, well everything is circumstantial.
Undeterred he invites Marcus over to the house to present his witness. Moving slowly and clumsily, as if trained where to go and what to say, his witness says what "he saw" on the night of Karl's death. Marcus challenges proclaiming from the way he walked and talked, the man is clearly blind and he tries to get the witness to read some text out of a magazine. The text is read perfectly. And then Columbo introduces the real witness. No one else knew that the witness was blind. The person presenting what he "saw" had no visual impairments at all. Nothing to indicate he was blind. No one said anything about there being a blind witness to Marcus. So how could he know that the principle witness of Marcus driving away, was blind if he wasn't there. The true eye witness is not the man with the guide dog. It was Marcus himself.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
It can't be denied that some of the most satisfying Columbo episodes are where the master detective manages to trick the murderer into giving themselves away. By tricking them in some underhand way into revealing the truth. It's risky because it relies on the murderer falling from it, although also very clever. But then Columbo never plays that card unless he thinks that the murderer believes they're going to get away with it.
And you can only wonder sometimes how Columbo actually gets away with it. What actually goes on in court in cases like this? Do they ever get off based on an "entrapment" principle? Well we'll never know for this is Columbo, not Law and Order.
Convolutedness of the murder
The first murder is one of those deeply unsatisfying "accidental" ones that, by their nature, are not convoluted at all.
Thankfully however the second murder ups the game. Murder by suggestion using hypnosis and drugs? Now that's what we're talking about. That's the kind of murder that just runs rings round the Convoluted-o-meter.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Surprisingly Marcus barely gets annoyed at all with Columbo until right at the end when he finally decides Columbo can't nail him with anything and therefore he's being harassed. Even then though, the annoyance is a bit tokenistic - like the author realised they probably should make Marcus do some anger but not too much of it.
The smug-richness factor
At the risk of sounding rather nasty, it just has to be said that George Hamilton (who plays Marcus Collier) just has a face that says, in the right circumstances, smug. Very very smug. Indeed he turns up playing a similarly smug character in series 10's Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health.
Indeed the only time he manages to play Marcus and not look highly smug is when Marcus is furtively smoking.
Having looked at some other photos of George Hamilton, it is quite clear to us that he does have other facial expressions and that he is more than capable of not looking smug. Ergo we must assume that Mr Hamilton is an actor extraordinaire when it comes to playing smugness. And fair play to him for that.
Quality of sub-plot
Sub plot, sub plot, sub plot... No... We didn't really think there was one. There were hints - perhaps of Mr Collier having an affair with one of his colleagues, but they never went that far if we're absolutely honest. It was like they all went off to the cutting room floor, never to be mentioned again.
In fact the best we can get is Columbo getting lost following coloured lines round the Institute building. But even that is highly tenuous.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
Maybe I need my ears syringing but nope, there was none of that Mrs Columbo thing going on either!
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Well it has to be hypnosis although it must be said he doesn't spend all episode learning out it. What seems to happen is that he quickly reads a book and becomes an expert. Either that or someone just spends a lot of time briefing him off screen.
Was anyone given sedatives?
Well Nadia gets given some barbiturates several times, including as a way of getting her to kill herself. So yes. Lots.
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
It's all classic Columbo. Nothing irregular, nothing unusual.
Appearances by the Regular Cast
Roll up your sleeves and put your hands together for Mr Bruce Kirby in his second performance as Sergeant Kramer. And indeed third performance in Columbo.
Episodes where the murder is rather accidental can, frankly, be deeply unsatisfying but even if we take the second murder out of the equation, this is not one of them. Even if Nadia remained alive, the initial death keeps you going. Maybe that's because after the frankly surreal and incomprehensible opening sequence, a death shows we are watching Columbo and not an episode of The Prisoner after all.
However the real crux of the episode is the second killing which is so evil and nasty that it can't be helped but to gasp at the screen. And when Columbo finally finds his way of capturing the killer, well you can do little but cheer.