Charlie Clay runs a ship-building business owned by his father-in-law, Commodore Otis Swanson, who is not happy with his profiteering son-in-law's shady dealings. Nor is he pleased with any of the people closest to him, including his alcoholic daughter Joanna Clay, his elderly nephew Swanny Swanson or his lawyer Kittering. Soon the Commodore is murdered, and Charlie Clay covers it up by impersonating the Commodore, taking the corpse out on the man's yawl at night and throwing the body overboard. Lt. Columbo investigates this case with the help of a veteran sergeant and a 29-year-old novice. The rumpled, redoubtable detective knows Clay covered up the crime, but his assumption that Clay committed the crime may prove premature.Written by
The Commodore who was murdered is named Otis Swanson. In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Dead Ringer", the murder victim is also named Otis Swanson. Jackson Gillis is credited as the writer in that episode as well as this one. See more »
When Charles Clay drives away from Otis Swanson's house his car has wire wheels, but when he pulls up to the guard shack it has hub caps. See more »
As an utter Columbo devotee I was almost shocked to watch this episode.
It revolves around the murder of an elderly ship-yard owner who has plans to sell-out to a conglomerate, to the horror of various family and friend leeches who see their meal ticket flying out the window.
Even the first cut scene to the murder location has you wondering if a chunk of tape hasn't ended up on the floor without the editors noticing.
A stellar cast including Vaughan (who starred in a previous cruise-ship murder Columbo episode) utterly fails to make this work, and Vaughan himself looks extremely uncomfortable in this outing.
The scenes are awkward, apparently ad-libbed, Falk open with a knowing self-satisfied stare when stood at the door of the Commodore's (ship-yard owner's) home as though by divine inspiration he thinks he knows who's guilty even before the killer has made his/her trademark slip-up.
Stilted dialogue, long, long awkward silences, uncomfortable character dynamics (Columbo keeps draping an arm around Vaughan in most scenes in a bizarre fashion), oddly timed cut-scenes, absence of incidental music and worst of all absence of endearing Columbo characteristics made this a cringe-worthy outing. I felt uncomfortable several times watching it.
Some reviewers will rate this quirky episode simply by virtue of it trying to be different-what that ignores is that the very appeal of Columbo, especially the 1970s outings, is its formulaic presentation. Falk is smarmy, condescending to his young detective trainee, all-knowing well before any clues have been presented...all in all it presents like a drama-class ad-libbed thrown together session. A very bad episode, possibly because it suggests the end of the Columbo series, with Columbo rowing off at the end whistling that annoying Nik-Nak Paddywhack tune (despite having a cigar clenched between his teeth!). Going by the 1980s/1990s episodes maybe it should have been the end.
When you compare this episode to the gems starring Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy, it almost poisons the entire series, and definitely feels non-canon. Fans avoid, this was bad, very very bad.
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