Columbo (1971–2003)
20 user 5 critic

How to Dial a Murder 

A behavioral psychologist whose wife died under suspicious circumstances trains his dogs to kill on command using a telephone.


James Frawley


Tom Lazarus (teleplay by), Anthony Lawrence (story by) | 2 more credits »

On Disc

at Amazon




Episode complete credited cast:
Peter Falk ... Columbo
Nicol Williamson ... Dr. Eric Mason
Kim Cattrall ... Joanne Nicholls
Joel Fabiani ... Dr. Charles Hunter
Frank Aletter ... Dr. Ernie Garrison
Tricia O'Neil ... Miss Cochran - the dog trainer
Ed Begley Jr. ... Officer Stein
Fred Jay Gordon Fred Jay Gordon ... Technician (as Fred J. Gordon)


Dr. Eric Mason is a self-controlled man who teaches how to get control over one's own life. Six months earlier, his wife died suddenly in an inexplicable car accident. Now his best friend, Dr. Charles Hunter, dies when Eric's two Doberman pinschers, Laurel and Hardy, suddenly tear him apart in Eric's kitchen while Eric is away. Lt. Columbo love dogs and needs to figure out what happened before Laurel and Hardy are put down and Dr. Mason gets away with murder. Written by Baldinotto da Pistoia / revised by statmanjeff

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


TV-PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

5 April 1978 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Jeu de mots See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Television See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


One of the many movie posters on display in Dr. Mason's house is for the 1940s thriller, "The Suspect", starring Charles Laughton. This is significant, as the structure of "The Suspect" prefigures the formula for "Columbo", presenting us, not only with a killer whose identity is known from the outset, but also a seemingly mild-mannered and polite police detective who befriends the killer and knowingly uses him, rather than a police colleague, as a sounding-board for his various theories about the crime. It is the close relationship between killer and detective thus formed that leads to the resolution of the story. It is not known if William Link and Richard Levinson, creators of "Columbo", ever saw this film, but it was made by Universal, like "Columbo". See more »


The pool balls that Mason sets up to for Columbo to hit change between shots. First they are all solids and what appear to be two cue balls set up in a triangle shape. The scene cuts to Columbo for a few seconds, then back the Mason and the pool balls. Now there are a mix of solid and striped pool balls and the two cue balls are gone. See more »


Miss Cochran - the dog trainer: If you wanna protect your wife, Lieutenant, why don't you just teach her karate? Good-bye.
See more »


References Boss of Hangtown Mesa (1942) See more »


This Old Man
Traditional English children's marching song
Whistled by Peter Falk
See more »

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User Reviews

One for animal lovers
12 July 2016 | by Leofwine_dracaSee all my reviews

Made in 1978, HOW TO DIAL A MURDER is one of the best of the Columbo series and features one of the most memorable methods of murder that the show had to offer. Guest villain Nicol Williamson plays a psychologist who has trained his dogs to kill on command and figures out a way to get them to take out a rival who he discovered had an affair with Williamson's late wife.

It's a gruesome way to die and HOW TO DIAL A MURDER makes no bones about yet. And yet...when the murder weapon is a pair of lovable Dobermans called Laurel and Hardy, it's difficult to dislike or even be frightened of the dogs. Columbo, who we know has an affinity with man's best friend, is of the same mindset and his interactions with the animals are the best bit of this story.

Williamson also makes for an imposing villain and I particularly liked the way he is depicted as a fan of classic cinema, allowing for some great off-topic talks about W. C. Fields and the like. Kim Cattrall plays in support in one of her early performances while Falk himself is on strong form, acting much like a dog himself in refusing to drop the case or let Williamson rest for a moment.

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