Columbo: Season 4, Episode 3

By Dawn's Early Light (27 Oct. 1974)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Mystery
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 1,014 users  
Reviews: 26 user | 3 critic

The commandant of a military academy murders the chairman of the board, who wants to oust him. Lt. Columbo takes up residence in the barracks to expose the killer.



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Title: By Dawn's Early Light (27 Oct 1974)

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Episode complete credited cast:
Burr DeBenning ...
Madeleine Sherwood ...
Miss Brady (as Madeleine Thornton-Sherwood)
Tom Simcox ...
Sergeant George Kramer (as Bruce Kirby Sr.)
Sidney Armus ...
Karen Lamm ...
Cadet Morgan (as B. Kirby Jr.)


Colonel Lyle C. Rumford, the proud Commandant of a military academy, is incensed that William Haynes, the owner of the property, wants to turn it into a co-ed college. So, Rumford plots to kill Haynes with a back-firing cannon that Haynes is due to fire in a ceremony. Rumford arranges for the cannon to explode by blocking its discharge with a cleaning rag and thereby making the explosion seem an unfortunate accident caused by a clumsy attendant. Los Angeles Police Department's Lieutenant Columbo comes to the academy to investigate Haynes' death and instantly suspects that Rumford had something to do with the explosion, which Columbo believes was not accidental. Columbo unrelentingly seeks to prove that Rumford had motive and opportunity to rig the cannon. Written by Kevin McCorry <>

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Release Date:

27 October 1974 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


This is the only "Columbo" episode out of the four Patrick McGoohan appears in which he did not direct. See more »


As Columbo joins Rumsford for dinner, he is given a plate with a good-sized steak, accompanied by sweetcorn, carrots and something green, all in small neat piles. A few shots later, when the assistant cadets are excused from the table, his plate is there with the steak, but absolutely piled high with peas and green beans, but no sweetcorn at all. Then when he adds bread to his plate, it has the same ingredients as the first plate. See more »


Col. Lyle C. Rumford: This country is going to have the best damn army in the world!
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Arranged by Daniel Butterfield
Played by unseen bugler
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User Reviews

Gimmick-free "Columbo" episode, with the most fascinating performance in the series
11 January 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Col. Lyle C. Rumford (Patrick McGoohan) is commandant of a military academy whose chairman of the board, William Haynes (Tim Simcox), wants to turn the place co-ed. (That's about the best motive for murder I've seen in a "Columbo" episode.) Haynes, who is the grandson of the academy's founder and was once a cadet under the colonel, has further decided to boot out his hated former commandant. He also insists on firing the ceremonial cannon on Founder's Day, which gives Rumford a devious idea. After an explosion that kills Haynes and looks like an accident caused by a negligent cadet (Mark Wheeler), our rumpled Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) is on the case—and he quickly learns this was no accident.

"Columbo" is always a good showcase for the actor playing the villain, but McGoohan's performance (for which he won an Emmy) may rank as the most fascinating in the series. In addition to his unsettling mania for discipline, there seems to be a lost little boy hiding underneath his rigid exterior. Twice he hints at homosexuality. He has a lust in his eyes when he promises to punish his boodle boy for unshined shoes. Later he says "No" much too quickly when Columbo asks if he's ever had a rivalry over a woman.

Howard Berk's script is happily free of gimmicks. We already have to suspend our disbelief to accept that a single police lieutenant would encounter more than one of these tricky, high class murders in a lifetime; or that any one of these cases wouldn't bring him fame and an instant promotion. We don't need the added burden of miracle wrinkle creams ("Lovely but Lethal"), implausible murder swaps ("A Friend in Deed"), identical twin killers ("Double Shock") and subliminal advertising ("Double Exposure"). Here we have a plausible murder scheme that the killer has good reason to think he can get away with—provided no one looks into the matter too closely. But Columbo does; and once he realizes the "accident" was foul play, that's it. A less than brilliant detective could have taken it from there, but Columbo does a thorough job of it. He even takes up temporary residence in the barracks to pick up every possible clue.

Harvey Hart's direction is fine, despite a bad opening shot. I happen to have seen this episode several times and I'm always annoyed when I see the camera creep up on McGoohan. That implies that a *person* is creeping up on him, but it turns out it's only us, the "Columbo" fans.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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