First broadcast: 1991
“ It takes half a bloomin' hour before Columbo even appears on screen “
Winning $30m on the lottery. You can see how that would be a problem for Fred Brower. Especially when you know that he'd have to share it with his wife as their bitter divorce hasn't been finalised yet. Oh yes, money and divorce. That can be a problem all right.
As a photographer who regularly struggles to even pay the rent, he would dearly like the cash and certainly doesn't want his soon-to-be former wife to have a penny. But if he steps up with the winning ticket before it's finalised, she'll get half of it all right.
He needs help so consults with his uncle, Leon Lamarr. Leon, a retailer of highly expensive jewellery who brought Freddy up after his parents died, offers a simple plan. Leon will claim he bought the ticket and then give Freddy the cash.
Two weeks after claiming the prize though and Leon still hasn't handed over any money. And unfortunately for Freddy, Leon has no intention of doing so. He's cold, flat broke thanks to the recession and he needs the cash. So on Halloween Leon ducks out of his house during the preparations for a costume party and heads over to Freddy's. Dressed as King George he drives over with a gift although it's not money he's brought with him though, but a champagne bottle which he promptly uses to knock Freddy out.
His plan? To make it look like Freddy had slipped in the bath and banged his head whilst trying to get out. Stripped naked and placed in a full bath, Freddy regains consciousness but that's soon changed when Leon holds his head under the water. He smashes Freddy's waterproof watch against the wall and sets it forward to just after 8pm, by which time Leon will be safely surrounded by witnesses at his house.
But how to make doubly sure there will be no alibi problems? Shortly after Leon's mistress arrives; none other than Freddy's estranged wife, Nancy. And sure enough at 8pm she phones Leon from Freddy's house, where Leon establishes his alibi.
It's the noise of a pet chimp that Freddy's looking after for a friend, that finally alerts the neighbours to the fact that something is wrong. Naturally most of the detectives follow the accident concept, but Columbo's not so sure.
Naturally it's the broken watch that gives Columbo ideas, especially once he finds out that that the expensive waterproof watch Freddy's wearing was in fact a cheap fake and certainly not waterproof.
Over the course of the next few days he digs deeper and deeper. He meets the ex-wife and wonders why she never signed the divorce papers. He discovers the large case of champagne under the table, and the fact that Freddy intended to buy an expensive sports car - none of which tally with the fact that Freddy had been struggling to pay for the rent. Maybe if Leon had told Columbo he'd promised Freddy some cash, well then maybe that could be explained. But Leon hadn't.
Columbo quickly comes to the conclusion that it was Freddy, not Leon, who had the winning the ticket but he still needs evidence and it's a visit to Freddy's flat that offers an idea. On his first visit the monkey had stolen Columbo's shiny police badge, and a series of photographs of the money it doing the same with metal earrings, with cigarette cases and more. And it just so happened that Leon's costume included a shiny gold medallion.
At a jewellery auction, Columbo confronts Leon. A fingerprint has been found. Leon scoffs at the idea - there would have been lots of his fingerprints in the flat as he'd visited many times. Of course Columbo hadn't been looking for human prints in the flat. He'd been looking for a money's prints on a medallion. True to form the chimp had tried to grab it, and had succeeded.
It's enough to place Leon at the scene of the crime and all there is left is to take a calculated risk and bring Nancy in to the mix. By bringing her in to the room and subtly informing her that she'll soon be getting all the money, Leon instantly dobbs her in too. Well if he's going down, why on earth shouldn't she?
Whoever got the $30m well that's never explained. But what is for sure is that Columbo got his man by putting the pieces together. Not many detectives would even consider a chimp's fingerprints to be evidence. But then not many detectives are Columbo.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
So here we go - let's break down the detail. Using a chimp's fingerprints to place someone at a crime? Well how many detectives would even consider that?
Only the kind of detective who actually notices and pays attention to what a chimp does would do that. It's not rocket science, but it's a perfect example of Columbo using an obvious technique in a non-obvious way.
Convolutedness of the murder
We've probably said this before, but for so many of the later episodes, the murder seems to be so complicated that you need a degree in advanced criminology to make head nor tail of what's going on.
In contrast, this is an episode that completely bucks that trend. The murder itself is comparatively simple - whack over the head, make it look like drowning, establish your alibi by having your mistress sort it out.
It's a classic method and oddly refreshing compared to most of the later murders.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Best guess from his accent is that Leon's from the deep south; he's certainly got that southern drawl. And with southern drawl comes hospitality.
No true murderer from the deep south would ever get annoyed with a detective, and Leon's reasonably calm and friendly. It's not until right at the end - just as if he knows the game is finally up - that we see some anger when Columbo mentions fingerprints.
Often murderers get annoyed as they see Columbo's net tightening; a last ditch, desperate attempt to shake off the master detective. And maybe Leon doesn't see the net tighten. Or maybe he thinks there's just no evidence. Or maybe it's that deep south hospitality.
The smug-richness factor
Leon Lamarr may be rich, but the smug-richness factor normally assesses how much money has affected personality. You know what we mean here - the kind of people who think that, because they have money, they can do whatever they please.
Maybe it's the fact that he's momentarily poor that's changed Leon, but if you're looking for a super smug, super rich, super evil murderer this isn't the one for you.
Quality of sub-plot
With an extra half an hour of runtime, the later episodes usually have time for a bit of a sub-plot and this one's a wonderful one. But to learn what it is, well you'll have to skip to the next section.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
So, you made it then? Yes, Mrs Columbo is the sub-plot! Bet you didn't see that one coming! (Okay, you probably did.)
It turns out that it’s the Columbo's 25th wedding anniversary - awh, how sweet - and Columbo's after a present for her.
As Nancy works in a lingerie shop his first thought is something a bit lacy. Until he finds out the cost anyway. Maybe some jewelry? Well not from Leon's shop anyway - far too expensive!
So what do you get Mrs Columbo after twenty five years of happy marriage? Well according to our Lieutenant, you get her car re-sprayed. Ah, sweet.
Incidentally this episode was broadcast in 1991 and that means the pair were happily married in 1966. Now we all know why 1966 is famous, don't we? Why yes we do. For 1966 was the year before 1967 when the very first episode of Columbo was broadcast!
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Columbo trying to learn things is always enjoyable but I'm afraid there's none in this episode - other than "don't raise your catalogue in a jewellery auction!"
Was anyone given sedatives?
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
A very straight laced episode - nothing out of the ordinary at all.
Appearances by the Regular Cast
Sorry, none here!
This is a Columbo that fits firmly in to the category of "mighty fine romp". Nothing too taxing, no unrewarding complications. Just good, solid fun. There's no headaches inducing plot twists, no problems trying to work out what on the backstory is.
Oh and for once, it's a Columbo that's reasonably realistic. Oh yes, that's certainly true. Compared to some of the murders in the later Columbos, this is totally realistic - as long as you believe someone can win the lottery, the whole story is credible. And people do win the lottery.
It's not perfect (not entirely convinced by Rip Torn's accent when he plays Leon) but it's fun. And at the end you turn off your TV and come away happy. Columbo has got his murderer, and you've been entertained.