Columbo: Season 5, Episode 3

Identity Crisis (2 Nov. 1975)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Mystery
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 842 users  
Reviews: 25 user | 3 critic

A top CIA operative commits murder the way only a brilliant spy can, never guessing he'll have to contend with a man like Lt. Columbo.



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Title: Identity Crisis (02 Nov 1975)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Otis Young ...
Lawrence Melville
Geronimo / "A.J. Henderson"
Phil Corrigan
Salvatore Defonte
William Mims ...
Gallery Attendant
Coroner Anderson
Cliff Carnell ...
Photo Shop Man
Edward Bach ...
Angela May ...


The deceptively absent-minded police lieutenant, Columbo, investigates a complex murder case, pitting his wits against a wily secret agent working for a covert government organisation. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

agent | cia | spy | murder | madame butterfly | See more »


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Release Date:

2 November 1975 (USA)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


When the Director reveals himself and his Agency's involvement in the murder to Lt. Columbo, he shows a card identifying himself as "Phil Corrigan, Secret Agent X-9," which is actually the title of a vintage newspaper comic strip and the name of its hero, created by Dashiell Hammett, and filmed twice by the studio responsible for these "Columbo" telefilms, Universal, as a Saturday matinee cliffhanger serial, in 1937 and 1945, although the first time they changed the character's name to "Dexter". See more »


Joyce the camera lady's hands are both down on the counter when Columbo says "Let me check over something." The camera changes and Joyce's left hand is now up, touching her face. See more »


Lt. Columbo: Do you have any wine?
Nelson Brenner: A cellar-full!
Lt. Columbo: Just a glass.
Nelson Brenner: What kind would you like?
Lt. Columbo: [after deliberating] Oh, red.
See more »


References Secret Agent X-9 (1945) See more »


Un bel di vedremo
from Madama Butterfly
Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Heard over the End Credits
See more »

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User Reviews

Spy stuff mixes surprisingly well with the "Columbo" formula in this enjoyable episode
9 February 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Nelson Brenner (Patrick McGoohan), a top CIA operative, is really a double agent who finds it necessary to rid himself of a fellow spy (Leslie Nielsen) and make it look like a mugging. Brenner inadvertently leaves tiny clues in a photo shop at a carnival, on Brenner's corpse at the beach, in a tape recording he makes while in his Agency-approved identity as a speechwriting consultant—the kind of clues that no one would ever pick up on. No one, that is, except our rumpled, redoubtable Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk). The indefatigable detective will find himself followed by mysterious agents, visited by the top man himself and entertained with a recording of "Madame Butterfly" in Brenner's own mansion before solving this difficult case.

Well, Columbo has already battled his own top boss ("A Friend in Deed"), a scientific genius ("Mind Over Mayhem") and a foreign secretary with diplomatic immunity ("A Case of Immunity"). Why not give him a really impossible job: battling a master spy?

It's strange to see standard spy stuff in a "Columbo" episode. We get the cryptic dialogue ("Colorado is a river" "Geronimo is an Indian"), a broken poker chip to prove identity, latex disguises, exploding cars—if I had wanted to see this crap I would have watched "Mission: Impossible."

No, I'm joking. This is an enjoyable episode, with McGoohan delivering two excellent performances: as director and guest villain. He films William Driskell's script at a leisurely, but not lugubrious, pace. The scene where Columbo fumbles for change at a gas station is the only one that seems overlong. McGoohan's splendid Nelson Brenner is fascinated by Columbo—the way a small rodent is fascinated by a snake.

I mean that analogy. Sometimes even we, the "Columbo" fans, underestimate our hero and see him as a simple guy with a gift for detection. But there is a moment or two in every episode where he seems menacing—almost frightening. In this episode, it's the scene where he walks backwards out of Brenner's office, smiling—yet with a penetrating glare. You'd need a master spy's nerves not to be undone by that.

The scene in Brenner's mansion is among the best in the series and make up for whatever deficiencies we might find in the plot and in the ending. Fans of McGoohan's spy series, "Danger Man" and "The Prisoner," will find as much to enjoy as "Columbo" buffs.

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