Famous (and fraudulent) psychic Elliot Blake uses his old mentalist skills to live a lavish lifestyle at the expense of a psychic research institute and hopefully, the US Government. What seems at first like a threat, a test devised by a well-known magician and debunker of psychics, turns out to be his chance for revenge against his former mentor. What he can't foresee is a police lieutenant who knows all the tricks. Written by
Mark Cabot Robinson
While the first episode of the new series that aired on ABC, this is the second episode in the Columbo series to feature the world of magicians, mentalists, and magic guillotines; the first being Columbo: Now You See Him (1976) TV. There is even a similar scene with Columbo in a magic shop being given a demonstration of a guillotine trick where his finger (in the original episode, the trick was large enough to include his whole hand) appears to be in danger of being cut off. See more »
When Columbo returned to television in the late '80s, the integrity of the original series was usually in place. The qualities that made Columbo tops were never more apparent than in "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine," with guest stars Anthony Andrews, Anthony Zerbe, and Karen Austin. Andrews plays a psychic being wooed by a government organization for his gifts, but of course, they want to see proof. He is connected with a psychic institute run by beautiful Karen Austin, who not only wants the credibility a win like this could give her institute, but Andrews himself. She is running tests and helping him cheat.
Enter Zerbe, a magician who makes his living debunking psychics. He is brought in by the government to administer special tests to Andrews. Turns out, he and Andrews knew each other once, long ago, in a third world prison, and when Zerbe saw his chance to get out, he did, leaving Andrews behind. There is a hint here of more than just a prison friendship - in the hands of two excellent actors like Zerbe and Andrews, they have etched these characters and their relationship with a lot of layers. Andrews plays the card of their old friendship to get Zerbe to give him elaborate tests that are carried out by trickery, and then sanction him as real to the government. This accomplished, Andrews plays the revenge card for what Zerbe did by abandoning him years ago and, in a remarkable scene, gets rid of him. It's brilliantly done as the murder is never shown, but it makes you sick anyway.
It's up to Columbo to debunk the psychic and reveal him for what he really is, a cold-blooded killer. Watch Columbo figure out the tests, with the help of a boy who is a magic aficionado, and be prepared to be caught up in the scenario and feel like you've just seen a pretty great magic show. One of the truly great Columbos.
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