Columbo: Short Fuse

Columbo Peter FalkYou’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.

The Motive

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.

The Murder

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 Mistakes

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.

The Verdict

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

About Roger Pocock

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4 Responses to Columbo: Short Fuse

  1. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed this episode too

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Roddy McDowall was a gem as the murderer for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. scifimike70 says:

    I was just reminded that Columbo was part of The NBC Mystery Movie series alongside McMillan & Wife and McCloud. I enjoyed all three back then and in great part to the 70s TV atmosphere which benefited many TV mysteries for that decade. There was a certain distinction between British and American TV mysteries in that regard which makes me wonder how Columbo would have worked out as a British series.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. epaddon says:

    Columbo had been such a hit out of the box that NBC asked for one extra episode to be produced (though “Blueprint For Murder” was the one aired last). The rush job to get this done is evident in the script since its clear they hadn’t had time to refine the complexities of Roger’s scheme (you have to watch multiple times to realize that Roger was singlehandedly causing all the behind the scenes discontent about the sale of the company; plus his effort to frame Logan and conveniently get Anne Francis out of the picture is shaky since it all hinges on the fact that his aunt will be too angry to ever want to talk to them again and hear their side of the story). These weaknesses are compensated for by the great location photography and effective use of the tram, the editing and the last Gil Melle score for Columbo (I wish his theme material had been kept over the course of the series because he captured the sound of Columbo best. Certainly a better theme than the awful “This Old Man!”).

    Incidentally, one of McDowall’s crazy outfits is something he’d worn previously in the Night Gallery pilot movie. It wouldn’t surprise me if the genesis for creating a final Columbo story might have been “do something for Roddy McDowall and make him like he was in the ‘Night Gallery’ pilot which also involved him scheming to do away with an uncle”)

    Liked by 2 people

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