Columbo: Season 4, Episode 5

Playback (2 Mar. 1975)

TV Episode  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 920 users  
Reviews: 20 user | 3 critic

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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Title: Playback (02 Mar 1975)

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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 <>

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Release Date:

2 March 1975 (USA)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Gina 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 »


A gunshot (both during the murder and during Columbo's re-enactment) causes the bedroom door to open, but does not cause the folding room-divider doors to close, despite being much closer. See more »


Harold Van Wick: Well, Margaret, let out all of your secret frustrations. It's good for the soul - if you still have one.
See more »


Referenced in Remington Steele: Stronger Than Steele (1985) See more »


Ballade No.1 in g-minor, op.23
Written by Frédéric Chopin
See more »

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User Reviews

An enjoyable and strong Columbo film
22 December 2006 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Harold Van Wick has landed on his feet by marrying the wheelchair-bound Elizabeth Meadis as he has become the head of the family electronics company. Harold has driven the company to focus on gadgets like the many toys he has in his own home – a direction that mother-in-law blames for the fall in profits of her company. When she decides to fire him, Harold sets it up to kill her, make it look like a burglary and use the CCTV with a recording to make the security guard think it happened while Harold was at a party. It all goes to plan but wet mulch and the precision of Harold's timings make Columbo believe this is not as simple as a robbery gone wrong.

The problem with me having seen so many of the Columbo films is that there are so few left for me to watch without knowing the whole show. This has meant me mostly watching the modern ones which aren't as good as the original films. Playback caught my eye in the TV guide and I had no memory ever seeing it and was thus looking forward to it. This pressure of expectation could have damaged the viewing of it but thankfully this was a typically strong Columbo that sticks to the formula and delivers what the fans love about the series. The plot is the usual cat and mouse game as Columbo tries to piece the mystery together and it is a good example of how to do it. The little details are well worked by Columbo and he has good chemistry with Harold, albeit not quite as good as in the best films. The humour is present as well, which helps things move along entertainingly and makes Columbo fun as a character.

Falk is terrible here when asked to act like he has a cold – for some reason he cannot do it and his sneezes are laughable. However in every other regard he gives great Columbo. He is self-depreciating but always leaves just enough of his cogs turning visible so the viewer knows what he is doing. His turn in the art gallery is an obvious scene but he makes it work by the deftness of his comic touch – the moment where he explains to the gallery owner that his wife paints is probably one of my favourite Columbo moments. He works well with Werner, who himself is good value even if he is given a slighter weaker character than some of the better adversary roles have had. Support is so-so from Scott and Rowlands, mainly because the two men make the film theirs and work their joint and individual scenes well.

Overall then a great example of what the Columbo films do well. The formula is all in place and all parts work well – from the mystery right through to the humour. Apart from a terrible cold, Falk is strong and works well with Werner in a film that will please fans and showcase the film series for first timers.

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