First broadcast: 1976
“Columbo gets to wander around asking daft questions, whilst Ricardo Montalbán provides a masterclass in acting“
In hospital, Curro Rangel regains consciousness, memories of the bull hitting him as he awakes. The bull had broken out of his box, and Curro had used his Matador skills to try and catch the bull. Unfortunately for him, the bull won but he was apparently dragged out of the ring by his father whilst Ranch owner and National Hero and ex-Matador Luis Montoya caught the bull.
But whilst Curro survived, back at the Mexican ranch where Hector Rangel works things are not quite so rosy. Hector knows the true secret of what happened that day and has decided to leave. For Luis didn't capture the bull, and certainly didn't save Curro. Hector had to do it all on his own whilst Luis stood in the bull ring petrified.
If the truth was ever told, for image conscious Luis it could mean ruin. To prevent the secret getting out, Luis knows he must kill his life long friend and assistant Hector.
After sending the other ranch workers home for the rest of the day, Luis takes Hector in to the bull ring claiming the bull must die and he wants to be the one to do it. Hector protests. Luis was injured in the ring many years ago and doesn't have the strength, but Luis persuades Hector to join in him the ring.
Then Luis fires a tranquilliser dart at Hector, opens the gates and lets one angry bull kill the helpless Hector. When the police arrive he tells the story of how he believed Hector went in the ring to kill the bull himself.
Alas for him, a certain non-Mexican police officer just happens to be in Mexico. After having a minor car crash, Columbo's roped in to help the local police. With no knowledge at all of bull-fighting, Columbo starts digging away, asking questions and eventually working the whole story out.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
Could this be the first homicide where the murder weapon is a bull? Columbo certainly thinks it possible, and he's clearly the person to find out. With no knowledge of bull fighting, he manages to learn about the sport and ask the obvious questions that the Mexicans wouldn't think to ask. Like "What's this piece of wood on the floor, buried under the sand in the bull ring?"
But for all his thoughts and questions, he struggles to work out the motive. Hector's packed suitcase is found but no one knows who packed it. And why would Luis want to kill Hector anyway?
Then he finds out about Luis's hero status amongst the local population and wonders. When Curro was injured that day, did things really happen as Montoya claimed? What if the death was to cover something up? With Curro returning from hospital and proclaiming he'll kill the bull that injured him and killed his father, Luis jumps in the bullring to try and persuade him not to do it.
Then the bull is released. Curro leaps out of the way leaving just Montoya in the ring. Luis freezes once more. At the last minute, with the bull racing towards him, the game is up. After two ranch workers have leapt in to guide the bull to the pen, Montoya knows he is beat and walks calmly and silently to the waiting police car.
With Curro's help, Columbo has used a bull not as a weapon but as an evidence gathering technique. One angry bull provides all the evidence needed. This is clearly not textbook investigating.
Convolutedness of the murder
Murder by bull? How do you rate that on the Convolutedness scale? Now that's a question I never thought I'd ask.
Okay, let's investigate the facts. The bull is already on site and is, by the nature of the fact that it's used in bullfighting, angry and aggressive. So the bull is essentially a tool. The murderer has picked a tool that is at hand.
Montoya has had to send everyone away so he has no witnesses. But that's not difficult. One guy he just gives a bottle of booze too and sends him off on a horse. No problem.
Nah, this is a simple murder, with a simple motive. And that's just the way we like them.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Luis Montoya, expertly played by the fabulous Ricardo Montalbán (yes, he who played Kahn in Star Trek II) is one of those calm, patient villains who barely seems to have emotion. No overacting about how upset he is, no trying to explain everything Columbo finds on the floor.
But that's not to say Montoya doesn't get angry. He does get shouty towards the end, even going as far as that age old technique of banning Columbo from his property. Hey, if they'd been in Los Angeles, Montaya would have been shouting loudly about calling "his good friend, the Police Commissioner." Let's give it a 4 out of 5 on the angry scale.
The smug-richness factor
Is Montoya rich? Well he runs a ranch producing prize fighting bulls and as a former Matador and a national hero, he does seem to have some money. But he's not smug about it. He's probably one of the least smug murderers in the entire Columbo series.
Quality of sub-plot
So you may be wondering after all this, just why Columbo is in Mexico. Well I'll tell you. He's on holiday with Mrs Columbo.
So at this point you may be wondering just how Columbo gets involved with the Mexican police. Well I'll tell you. He has a minor car crash.
So you may be thinking, "eh? And?". Well I'll tell you. In series 4 Columbo goes on a cruise. Patrick Macnee and Robert Vaughn are there and everything. And wouldn't you know it, someone gets killed on board. So without the resources of a police department, Columbo solves the crime and when the cruise gets to Mexico the full story is told. It's in the press and everything.
So when he's in Mexico the year after, with problems caused by lack of car insurance following a car crash, he's recognised by the police. His car is impounded, but hey, the Mexican police might be able to help. If he fancies helping them.
Oh there's a sub plot in there. It's called "Columbo tries to get his car back whilst a Mexican taxi driver tries to claim whiplash from a crash that happened at 5mph. It's not much of one but it's there.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
Ah yes, the wife of Columbo is around too. But she's not in a car during the crash. Obviously. That would never happen. She probably doesn't even like his car. No, she's at the hotel waiting for him.
Is she angry that Columbo's solving crime whilst they're on holiday? Probably but they were heading home anyway so she gets the bus back so she can be at someone's 11th wedding anniversary or some spurious reasoning.
But is she a big fan of bullfighting and Mexico's leading former bullfighter?
Do I even need to answer that question?
Oh, it seems I do. No she's not.
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Do I even need to answer this question? It's bullfighting. That and the fact that if you drive in Mexico, your US car insurance probably isn't valid.
Was anyone given sedatives?
Normally when we ask this question it's because there's hysterical middle aged women screaming. But this time there's not. Instead it's the murder victim who is given sedatives as a way of ensuring he dies.
That's a novel use for them anyway.
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
Although we haven't presented it as such in this guide, there's a big difference in this episode from most Columbos. This is one of the few episodes of Columbo (and indeed we can't think of any others) where the motive is not known until the end.
Whilst we know almost everything about the way the murder happened, we're in as much in the dark about the motive as Columbo himself. Indeed he gets to know before us!
Appearances by the Regular Cast
Sorry, none at all. After all this is an episode based firmly in Mexico.
Despite the entirely tenuous way Columbo ends up investigating this case (frankly it's just not clear how a mere simple car crash sees a Mexican detective decide to rope Columbo in to helping in murder case), and some slight Mexican stereotyping, this is a thoroughly enjoyable episode.
Columbo gets to wander around asking daft questions, whilst Ricardo Montalbán provides a masterclass in acting. There's some wonderful deviations and comic moments, whilst never detracting or getting in the way of the plot. Indeed there's so much packed in to this episode that it's surprising they fitted it all in. Yet despite that it's well paced and a very easy watch.
This is an episode that shows the Columbo team at their best.