You’ve got to watch those people called Roger. They can be tricky folks to deal with. Roger Stanford is quite the practical joker and nobody likes one of those. They think they are funny, but they tend to end up amusing themselves and nobody else. Oh, and Columbo really doesn’t have the right kind of hair for silly string. It’s going to take a while to tease all that stuff out.
David “DL” Buckner owns a family run chemical plant. He wants to sell up, but his nephew Roger isn’t having any of it, so DL blackmails him into agreeing to the sale. Roger isn’t too happy about that idea, and puts his inventive brain to work figuring out a clever way to bump off his uncle.
Roger plants a bomb in a cigar case, which explodes, sending DL’s car off a cliff. That kills two birds with one stone, because DL’s chauffeur is a man named Quincy, who has been digging up dirt on Roger. He then tries to frame the VP of the company, who conveniently has a motive Roger can exploit: he didn’t want the company to be sold either.
The one that first sets Columbo on the trail (presumably – we can never quite understand the workings of that brilliant mind) is something that couldn’t have really been foreseen: DL left an answerphone message on his wife’s phone before he died, indicating to Columbo that something was amiss between uncle and nephew. Among several little mistakes, the attempt to frame the VP, Everett Logan, is a bit clumsy. As soon as Everett says “I have about four boxes left”, and opens the cupboard to reveal only three boxes, it’s obvious he can’t have actually used one of them himself to plant the bomb. There’s no way he would incriminate himself like that if he was the murderer. But the big mistake that allows Columbo to get his man is Roger’s failure to see through Columbo’s clever little bluff at the end, pretending they have found the box, complete with an unexploded bomb, and now they are trapped in a cable car with it and it’s about to go off.
He’s as brilliant as ever at spotting all the little clues that build up to the big picture, such as Roger looking at his watch a lot, and the photo of his uncle laid down flat on the desk, although by that point he’s really just having fun baiting his prey:
“This must have fallen over.”
Columbo’s wife gets a mention, in an amusing little rebuttal to the suggestion that the commissioner of police sent his best man; Columbo’s wife likes to insult him by saying he’s the second best, with 80 people tied for first place!
In an amusing sequence, Columbo makes his first trip in the cable car, while the guy accompanying him makes all kinds of unhelpful remarks.
“Look down there. About a thousand foot drop.”
Columbo visibly tenses up and then looks very wobbly and unsteady on his feet when he gets off. It turns out he’s just about as good at heights as he is in a boat. However, that doesn’t stop him from using the cable car to stage the bluff with the cigar box, and manages to just sit calmly while Roger panics, enjoying his moment of triumph.
At times this one is a bit of a slog, and it’s nearly 20 minutes before Columbo first appears, to bring the episode to life. The story gets a bit bogged down in too much intrigue, some of it unnecessary, but the ending is one of the classics. It’s all helped along with some great music from Henry Mancini, which is at times so fun that you want to get up and start dancing. Needless to say, an episode featuring Roddy McDowall, James Gregory and Ida Lupino is an acting masterclass.
The moral of the story? Smoking kills. And stay well away from practical jokers. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Columbo: Blueprint for Murder