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"Columbo: The Most Crucial Game (#2.3)"
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Reviews & Ratings for
"Columbo" The Most Crucial Game (1972)

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20 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Fast-Moving, Interesting Episode But Ending Was Disappointing

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
12 August 2006

Robert Culp is the "bad guy" here, after killing his boss: a young, spoiled owner of a pro football team who is basically a good-for-nothing. Culp, the general manager of the team, does all the work for the team and has little use for the "kid."

He decides to kill the owner while the latter is in his swimming pool during the middle of the one of the team's games. (The owner could care less about his club play) Culp has to make it look like he never left the stadium during the murder, so they can't blame it on him.

In the end, Lt. Columbo figures a flaw in his alibi, but I thought it was kind of weak, to be honest. I wonder, if it was real-life story, if the court would have gone along with it. I doubt it; Culp probably would have walked.

Nonetheless, it's an interesting 75 minutes. It also was interesting to see Valerie Harper's very short (too short) appearance near the end as a call girl. That was bizarre. There were good "names" in here with a young Dean Stockwell playing that owner; James Gregory as the coach and Dean Jagger as the man who used to be the lawyer for Stockwell's dad. Lots of other interesting characters in here, too. Too bad the ending was so abrupt and weak.

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16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Weak ending partly spoils an otherwise excellent "Columbo" episode

Author: J. Spurlin from United States
23 March 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sometimes Columbo solves a case by tricking his suspect into giving himself away, and other times by discovering a damning piece of evidence against him. In this episode – and I'm going to give the ending away, so stop reading now if you haven't seen it – he does the latter. But the "damning" evidence is the flimsiest thing I've seen yet in a "Columbo" episode, and it partly spoils an otherwise excellent script.

The crime itself is splendid. The manager of a football team (Robert Culp) murders the swinger (Dean Stockwell) who inherited the franchise. Culp sets up his alibi by calling Stockwell from his booth at the stadium, having discovered that Stockwell's lawyer (Dean Jagger) recently had his own client's phones bugged. He persuades Stockwell to take his exercise in the pool – right away. Next, he disguises himself as a Ding-A-Ling ice cream truck driver, drives halfway to Stockwell's house, and calls him again from a phone booth. When he gets to the house, he takes a piece of ice, goes to the pool and knocks Stockwell out with it. He throws the ice into the water as the unconscious man drowns. Brilliant. Looks like the guy hit his head on the diving board or something. An accident. Only our rumpled Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) is on the case, and he has good reason to believe it was no accident.

You have seen this one, right? Because I'm spoiling everything. Anyway, it's excellent right up until the last moment. Not only is Columbo's evidence flimsy, but you realize the motive is never fully explained. Maybe I'm obtuse, but why was it necessary for Culp to murder Stockwell? I can see how he'd benefit from it. "The kid," as Culp calls him, is clearly a nuisance. But murder? Was it because the lawyer was going manipulate Stockwell into firing him? Were Culp and Stockwell's wife having an affair? I've seen this twice now, and it's still not clear to me.

Robert Culp and Peter Falk work beautifully together, which explains why Culp guest stars so often in this series. And as I said, the murder is splendid. There's a funny role for Valerie Harper as a call girl. This is even the episode where Columbo utters his most famous line: "What'd you pay for those shoes?" But that ending! Columbo discovers that Culp didn't make the second call from his booth because the clock in his booth would have chimed. But there are no chimes on the tapes made from the bugged phones. Big freaking deal! When Columbo reveals this shocking news, I expected Culp simply to make some excuse about the clock not working. Something. But then it turns out that's the end of the episode. Culp's alibi is destroyed? It's all over? Phooey.

Okay, I know, I know. The damning evidence in mysteries often requires a suspension of disbelief. In real life, some fancy lawyer would make short work of most of the proof offered in fiction. And I know Columbo has other evidence against Culp's character. But still … clock chimes! Give me a break.

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13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Some missed evidence

Author: alifib from Italy
25 July 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Apart from a couple of very funny scenes - Columbo at the call girl's and his feet aching because of his new shoes - I found this film unconvincing. The motive of the murder isn't clear at all, the reason why Columbo suspects of murder is a little weak, both women's roles are not so relevant - I would say they're rather useless - and the ending is quite abrupt and unsatisfactory. But most of all: Since Culp's telephone was bugged as well as Eric's, why not checking out Culp's tapes - together with Eric's tapes? By comparing the two tapes, Columbo would have noticed that Culp's second phone call (the phone-box call) was totally absent from Culp's tapes: that absence would prove that he wasn't in his office at all when he called Eric for the second time! 6/10

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12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Good mystery with a somewhat awkwardly executed ending

Author: The Welsh Raging Bull ( from Port Talbot, South Wales, UK
12 August 2004

A refreshingly originally plotted Season 2 Columbo episode which sees the general manager of an American Football team, Paul Hanlon (played by Robert Culp) bump off the lazy, unambitious and wasteful owner, Eric Wagner (played by Dean Stckwell).

The script adds one or two nice twists along way and Culp, in his second outing as a Columbo villain is consistently stern-faced and oddly humourless throughout; in fact, he encapsulates the devious, selfish determination of his character and his scenes with Columbo are increasingly confrontational.

There is humour afoot in this story too: the scene when Columbo goes to call-girl Eve Babcock's home to question her is really funny, as she thinks Columbo is one of her customers.

There are however some nagging minus points - some aspects of the script rely too heavily on coincidence and luck. For instance, Eric Wagner was obviously a stubborn person - Hanlon's pestering manages to ensure that he is the pool so he can orchestrate his murder. This happens too easily for my liking...

Furthermore, the sealing clue is both inconclusive and rather contrived: amongst other things, Columbo's damning of Hanlon's alleged alibi-creating phone call takes place at exactly the same clock time it was perpetrated some days earlier. Therefore, Columbo miraculously judges his typical end-of-case wrant to perfection....

A very curious episode in many ways....worth a look for its's controversies.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Culp and Falk are great together

Author: bensonmum2 from Tennessee
14 March 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

- When the owner of a football team is found dead in his pool, it looks like an accident. That is until Columbo starts poking around. He quickly latches on to the man who runs the team, Paul Hanlon (Robert Culp), as the primary suspect. But how could Hanlon have committed the murder? He was at the ballgame at the time it was committed.

- The best thing about this The Most Crucial Game is the interaction between Robert Culp and Peter Falk. Culp is great as the suspect who grows more weary of Columbo's continual antics. There are a couple of scenes where Culp looks like he's really ready to blow a fuse. In contract, Falk's Columbo is calm, cool, and collected. Great stuff.

- The actual murder is also a thing of genius. Using a block of ice to bash someone in the head while in a swimming pool is a masterful idea. The intended victim is dead and there is no murder weapon.

- The weakest point of The Most Crucial Game is unfortunately the ending. It's rather poorly handled. It's almost as if the writers couldn't come up with a good way to end it. The solution is fine, it's just that the revelation of the solution seems very awkward.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Death By Ice.

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
13 October 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the one with Robert Culp as the aggressive self-starting manager of a football team who murders its madcap owner, Dean Stockwell, in the swimming pool of his playboy mansion. Culp has established an alibi for himself by manipulating a taped recording, phone, wiretaps, and other such stuff, some of which lost me along the way. Culp's legerdemain places him in his office high atop the Los Angeles Coliseum at the time the murder took place, whereas he was, in fact, impersonating a Ding-Aling Ice Cream man while driving to and from the scene of the crime. Valerie Harper shows up in an amusing scene as a hooker who mistakes the visiting Columbo for a client. Dean Jagger has a small part, and James Gregory has an even smaller part. All of the performances are up to par and the direction is competent.

But -- and this must be said -- but Columbo always shows an extraordinary amount of intuition and has an abundance of good fortune in all his cases. In this case the intuition and the luck smother the plot.

Columbo, try as he might, simply cannot pin the deed on Robert Culp. There is a "loose end", so to speak. But Columbo has an epiphany in a travel bureau when a cuckoo clock announces the time. My legal responsibilities forbid me to divulge more of the plot or its solution. Oh, well, I guess I can say that Culp's motive for murdering Stockwell is not only weak but absent. Early on, Columbo mentions in passing, "The motive. That's what I don't get, the motive." It doesn't seem to occur to him that there IS no motive. If Culp stands to profit from Stockwell's death, it's never made clear why. He's not going to inherit money. He's not going to take over the ownership of the football team. He has nothing going with Stockwell's wife. So, cui bono? The rules of logic decree that Culp is unculpable.

That's neither here nor there in an episode of Columbo, of course. The emphasis is not on logic but character and the interaction of characters. And this is the episode in which Columbo puts one foot accidentally into a swimming pool, ruins his shoe, and goes about asking people out of the blue, "Where did you get those shoes?" And, "Sixty-five dollars? Is there any place you think I could get a pair of shoes that look just like them for sixteen or seventeen dollars?"

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Murder Making No Sense But Subtle

Author: getyourdander from United States
29 December 2008

It is interesting that the writer of Bonanza episodes (Dugan) got tapped to write a Columbo episode. There is plenty of humor present from the Ding-A-Ling brand of Ice Cream to Rhoda (Valerie Harper) performing a call girl routine on Columbo.

The cast here is quite strong as Robert Culp is at his prime here. It is amazing but it appears that if Culp didn't need to hose off the pool deck, he would get off on this one. Susan Howard's role as the widow is really very limited, like her role on Dallas as Ray Krebs wife often seemed. She only has 3 scenes here.

What hits the formula here is how Columbo trips up Culp though I am at a total loss how Culp benefits from murdering a boss who he was in complete command of when he is alive. The performances are good enough that you don't mind.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Minor Columbo Entry Involves Murder Of American Football Tycoon

Author: ShootingShark from Dundee, Scotland
26 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The manager of a sports franchise kills his boss while pretending to be at a game and uses a clandestine phone-tap he knows about to prove his whereabouts. Columbo doesn't buy his story however, and knows that somewhere something's missing ...

This is a weak Columbo story, but a very enjoyable episode nonetheless. The script has too many holes for me - why does Culp want to kill his boss, how come the phone logs can't place him in a booth, and the wife's role is just plain confusing. The final twist with the missing chime is great, but the plot machinations to get there are too convoluted. As ever with Columbo though, this is still a lot of fun - Falk is excellent, Culp is ruthless and unpleasant, the supporting cast are good (the scene with Harper as the Hungarian call-girl is priceless) and there is an enjoyable, easy-going air to the proceedings. This is probably the weakest of Culp's three Columbo outings (the others are Death Lends A Hand and Double Exposure), but still a groovy little detective thriller.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A good episode, albeit with a disappointing ending

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
13 March 2011

I am a big fan of Columbo. The Most Crucial Game is a good episode if somewhat middling without being the best or the worst of the set. Susan Howard's role is disappointingly limited and she unfortunately doesn't do as much with it as she had the potential to do and the build up to the ending could have been steadied a bit which perhaps would have helped in making it better. I agree the ending was the most disappointing asset of The Most Crucial Game, the idea of the explanation I had no problem with, but it was the way it was executed and tied together that felt rather awkward, particularly with the flaw in the alibi which didn't convince.

However, the production values as are the case with all Columbo episodes are top notch, and the music adds a lot to the atmosphere. The script is excellent on the whole, with some great interaction between Falk and Culp and some thoughtful moments, and the story is well told with a splendid means of murder and premise. The direction and cast are generally on the money too. Peter Falk enjoys himself as Columbo, Robert Culp plays an interesting character and does very well with it and Dean Stockwell is good too.

Overall, the ending was a disappointment but the episode was good. 7/10 Bethany Cox

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

One of the weaker Columbo episodes

Author: vze2nkqb
18 September 2001

Despite the presence of frequent Columbo guest star Robert Culp and a strong supporting cast, `The Most Crucial Game' is a pretty weak offering. The main problem is the ending: Columbo doesn't really prove that Culp has committed the murder, all he's done is break his alibi.

This one is okay to watch once, but there are better episodes.

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