A gadget-happy inventor murders his mother-in-law; Lt. Columbo is on the case.


, (as Booker T. Bradshaw) | 2 more credits »

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Episode complete credited cast:
Harold Van Wick
Elizabeth Van Wick
Arthur Meadis
Margaret Meadis
Baxter (as Herb Jefferson Jr.)
Trisha Noble ...
Bart Burns ...
Officer Banks
Joe Ohar ...
Attendant (as Joe O'Har)


Electronics expert Harold Van Wick has wired his estate-home with closed-circuit television cameras and video recorders. His costly fascination with gadgetry raises the ire of his frugal mother-in-law, who owns the firm where Van Wick is the chief executive. She orders him to resign, threatening to reveal his philandering ways discovered by her private detective, but Van Wick has already set in motion a scheme to murder his angry mother-in-law, recording her demise on video tape while feeding a recording of an empty study to the guard monitoring the estate's rooms on television screens at the gate to the Van Wick estate. Having already forced open a window and planted footprints outside it to make the kill look like the deed of a burglar, Van Wick timer-sets the recording of the murder to play while he is away at a social function, thus giving him an alibi. But Lieutenant Columbo - that super-smart detective in a rumpled raincoat - suspects Van Wick and asks incessant questions as he ... Written by Kevin McCorry <mmccorry@nb.sympatico.ca>

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Release Date:

2 March 1975 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Gena Rowlands was the wife of actor/director John Cassavetes, who had been the killer in the 1972 episode "Etude in Black". Cassavetes and Peter Falk were friends and ultimately worked together on six films. See more »


The tape outline of the body on the ramp does not match the actual position of the body. The tape outline is much farther up the ramp with the head on the upper level of the floor. When the body is shown during the murder, the entire body is on the ramp. See more »


Harold Van Wick: Margaret, dear, have you done something to your hair?
Margaret Meadis: No.
Harold Van Wick: [Sarcastically] That's what I thought.
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Referenced in Remington Steele: Stronger Than Steele (1985) See more »


Ballade No.1 in g-minor, op.23
Written by Frédéric Chopin
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User Reviews

Excellent early Columbo
10 December 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Especially in its early years, the Columbo series often showcased modern technology - the IBM Selectric typewriter (yes, before it was obsolete, it was brand new), the Betamax years before it was available to the public, the digital watch, and in this episode, Playback, it's home gadgetry. In order to help his wheelchair-bound wife (Gena Rowlands), her husband (Oskar Werner) has outfitted their home with doors that open when one claps one's hands, etc. He also has a state of the art security system complete with videotape, which he maneuvers in order to show the killing of his mother-in-law, who's about to close down his business, but not her killer, while he's out for the evening. Columbo finds it terribly convenient that the killer managed to avoid the camera. A little too convenient.

Werner makes an excellent villain. He's smooth as silk, and all the more of a sleaze due to the soft and sympathetic portrayal of Gena Rowlands, who seems to truly love this philanderer/murderer. By the time Columbo's through with him, though, he's toast. A really wonderful entry in the series.

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