A stage illusionist kills his employer and makes it look like a contract killing; it's up to Lt. Columbo to trick the master trickster.



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Episode complete credited cast:
The Great Santini
Sgt. John J. Wilson
Harry Blandford
George Sperdakos ...
Redmond Gleeson ...
George Thomas
Patrick Culliton ...
Robert Gibbons ...
Michael Payne ...


The Great Santini, a successful Los Angeles night-club illusionist, is really an ex-Nazi named Stefan Mueller. When his employer, Jesse Jerome, threatens to reveal his true identity to the Israeli government, Santini kills Jerome in a cleverly conceived scheme to commit the crime while in the process of performing an act on stage, in which he is bound by chains and submerged in a tank. Lieutenant Columbo, the cheaply dressed yet extremely intelligent detective from the LAPD's Homicide Division, arrives to investigate Jerome's murder and instantly suspects Santini. Columbo patronizingly pursues Santini with incessant questions while searching for a clue to prove Santini's guilt and to dispel the illusionist's "perfect" crime. Written by Kevin McCorry <mmccorry@nb.sympatico.ca>

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Release Date:

29 February 1976 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In what appears to be pure coincidence, given the timing, the main character of this segment is named The Great Santini, the title of Pat Conroy's autobiographical novel published the same year, later made into a film starring Robert Duvall. See more »


When Columbo makes his first visit to the cabaret to interview Santini, he finds Santini practicing card tricks on stage to an empty room. Santini wears a gray sports jacket, but the close-up hand shots of the card tricks he does show that they are being done by someone wearing a jacket with a black-and-white checkered pattern. See more »


Lt. Columbo: You know, I would have bet money that he couldn't get out of those cuffs.
Michael Lally: Don't ever bet with Santini. He's the cream of cream.
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References Charade (1963) See more »


Music by Henry Mancini
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Sung by cabaret singer and incorporated into the background score
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User Reviews

Columbo tricks a master illusionist in this splendid episode, with all the artful plotting, delightful comedy and tense cat-and-mouse play fans love
6 February 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Great Santini (Jack Cassidy) is a brilliant stage magician with a hidden past. His real name is Stefan Mueller and he was an SS officer assigned to the concentration camps. Jesse Jerome (Nehemiah Persoff), his current employer, has learned of the illusionist's Nazi career and is using the information to blackmail him. One night, while ostensibly performing his celebrated trick of being locked in a steel cabinet and dowsed in a tank of water, Santini is really disguising himself as a waiter and walking unseen to Jerome's office. When Jerome turns up dead, it looks like a contract killing. But our rumpled, redoubtable Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk), assisted by the overeager Sgt. Wilson (Bob Dishy), has a few tricks of his own.

If Columbo can outmaneuver a chess champion ("The Most Dangerous Match"), out-think a scientific genius ("Mind Over Mayhem") and outwit a master spy ("Identity Crisis"), what made a master illusionist think he could do any better?

This is a splendid "Columbo" episode, with all the tricky plotting, delightful comedy and tense cat-and-mouse play that fans love. Did I mention the comedy? In the weak "Greenhouse Jungle," Bob Dishy is clearly a good actor playing a tedious character. Here he returns as Sgt. Wilson but the script by Michael Sloan is much better. Wilson's comic business, this time involving Columbo's new raincoat, is much better integrated into the plot than in "Greenhouse"—and it's much funnier.

Harvey Hart does a very nice directing job. Somebody in his crew had an excellent eye for detail. I especially like how a little water trickles out of the trap door after Santini's daughter (Cynthia Sikes) opens it.

The ending is ordinary, without one of those great thunderclap surprises, as in "A Stitch in Crime" and "Suitable for Framing." I love the final scene anyway, with Columbo's funny yet unnerving imitation of a magician's stage technique. This "Columbo" will work like magic on any fan.

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