Columbo: Season 1, Episode 0

Ransom for a Dead Man (1 Mar. 1971)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Mystery
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 1,176 users  
Reviews: 23 user | 5 critic

A brilliant tort attorney gets rid of her boring husband by faking his kidnapping and keeping the ransom. The FBI may be fooled, but not Columbo.



(teleplay), (story), 4 more credits »
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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
John Fink ...
Michael Clark
Patricia Mattick ...
Margaret Williams
Charles Macaulay ...
Hank Brandt ...
Attorney (as Henry Brandt)
Pat (as Jeane Byron)
Richard Roat ...
Norma Connolly ...
Harlan Warde ...
Paul Williams
Bill Walker ...


Leslie Williams, a brilliant tort attorney is bored by her husband, a respected member of the state supreme court. After trading on his famous name to get ahead, she tries to get her freedom by murdering him and concocts a scheme to make it appear that he's been kidnapped and held for ransom. After she pays the ransom to herself, his dead body is found. She may have fooled the FBI but not Lt. Columbo, who is aided by her vengeful stepdaughter. Written by

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Release Date:

1 March 1971 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Although Billy Goldenberg scored the opening "Columbo" stories in 1971, his commercially released "Columbo Theme" recorded as such by Norrie Paramor and His Orchestra ("Law Beat" album, Contour Records 2870 369) did not become a regular feature of the show. The theme is first heard during the helicopter sequence of "Ransom for a Dead Man" but Goldenberg did not use it as a title theme and composed mainly fresh music for "Murder by the Book" and all his subsequent scores. The "Columbo" series never had any recognizable theme tune of its own. See more »


Early in the pilot when Lee Grant's character leaves her husband's 1971 Lincoln sedan at the stop sign and goes to a mailbox to mail the ransom note she is startled by an approaching car. As the car approaches it is a Corvette. However as the car is shown driving away the rear of the car is a 1971 Lincoln sedan; possibly the same car and/or a sequence planned for earlier in the scene. See more »


Lt. Columbo: [to Leslie Williams] No conscience limits your imagination.
See more »


Features Double Indemnity (1944) See more »

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User Reviews

My absolute favorite Columbo episode
7 May 2008 | by (Dallas) – See all my reviews

I love this Columbo pilot has a richness of production lacking in most of the regular series episodes. I wish the regular episodes looked and felt like this.

The musical score by Billy Goldenberg is absolutely beautiful...variations on a simple theme, first as a intriguing, gently unfolding tune as the murder is planned and carried out. Then, as the cover-up is under way and we are introduced to a lush dramatic orchestration of the same theme, exciting and beautiful, worthy of a James Bond film. So versatile, this amazing tune, that it is used throughout the movie without ever sounding quite the same. The final iteration is as a jaunty little ditty in the airport coffee shop that sneaks up on you...totally unnoticed until the fun wrap-up and credits. Genius! Billy Goldenberg was only 34 when he did this...a master!

I also like the way the titles at the beginning and end look. The way the camera lingers at the last scene, of nothing but an airport window, allowing the credits to play out as the music plays, is so much more satisfying, more "movie-like", than the abrupt ending cut and the harsh yellow titles against stills of prior scenes of the regular series episodes. Some have derided the digital zooms and other editing choices made in this episode, but I couldn't disagree more. One of my favorite images is of the coldly beautiful Leslie, standing at the edge of a cliff, her eyes black as night, then suddenly ablaze like diamonds. They are actually the headlights of the big Lincoln she is driving in the scene. Beautiful imagery not even attempted in the series episodes.

That gets me to my final point as to why this Columbo is a cut above...Lee Grant! I enjoy watching Columbo match wits with female adversaries, and Leslie Williams is one of the best adversaries, if not the best, he has ever had...beautiful, sexy, flirtatious, shrewd, cunning and let's not forget - "greedy". I could watch her all day...I can't get enough of her. She is in control of every frame of film she appears in, every word, movement, every breath. Lee Grant is a great actress - great acting in a really fun part.

This episode is not perfect, but the Billy Goldenberg score, the "movie" look, and especially Lee Grant elevate it to the top for me. Fun to watch anytime.

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