Dr. Mark Collier is smooth, handsome and a little bit creepy, so George Hamilton is the perfect choice for the role. Collier also does not deserve the title of “doctor” because he specialises in hypnotherapy, and is pushing the practice to its limits, using drugs to deepen the hypnotic state of his very vulnerable patient Nadia Donner (Lesley Warren), who is completely dependent on him. He is more than willing to cut corners to achieve the results he wants, because he has a book deadline coming up. I also suspect that kissing a patient would be frowned upon in professional circles…
There really isn’t one, because…
The (not) Murder
Nadia’s husband Carl (Stephen Elliott) has found out about his wife’s affair with Collier. In a confrontation at the Donners’ beach house, Carl attacks both his wife and her lover. Collier arms himself with a poker, and hits Carl with it, while he is in the process of attacking Nadia. He doesn’t get back up again.
I’m not a legal expert, but at worst this is manslaughter, and at best Collier surely acted in reasonable defence of himself and his girlfriend. Our sympathies might even be on his side, if he wasn’t so callous about taking the guy’s wife away from him, and so unprofessional and ruthless within his professional life, for the sake of selling a book. Either way, he decides to cover up what has happened, persuading the nervous wreck that is Nadia to lie to the police (surely an odd strategy) and claim it was a burglary gone wrong. If there’s one major complaint that can be levelled at this series, it’s the frequency with which the killers try to make murders look like burglaries. How many times have we seen that happen now?
Nadia’s story is full of holes, and she keeps having to tweak it to make it work. She says the burglars pretended to be broken down on the road, but then says she heard them drive off from right outside. That means the car must have driven onto their drive, but she says she didn’t hear them arrive, which is impossible (the light would shine right through the front door for a start). This gets Collier doing what most of the killers do, trying to explain away the inconsistencies (“What if they drove down the driveway with their lights off?”) but the evidence is mounting when Columbo discovers evidence of a third person in the room, who was a smoker, unlike the Donners, although the intruders were supposed to be wearing masks. Under pressure, and with Nadia about to crack, Collier cooks up another plan…
The Second (or rather, first) Murder
Having suggested a lie detector test for Nadia, Collier contrives a way to kill Nadia (so why suggest that in the first place?). Triggered by a code name he delivers by phone, Nadia acts under hypnosis, jumping off her balcony. Collier successfully gets round the problem of self-preservation even under hypnosis by tricking her into thinking she’s going for a swim, diving into the pool that is five storeys below. The direction at this point is very clever, with Nadia coming to her senses at the last minute and screaming, by which point it is too late for her to stop herself, a sensible acknowledgement of the resistance of somebody under hypnosis to self-destruction, even when fooled like this. Of course, Columbo clearly spots the obvious clues: somebody jumping to their death doesn’t strip naked first and fold their clothes up neatly, tucking their valuables into their shoes. That’s something a person does when going for a swim.
I love those rare moments when Columbo’s mask slips and we see the real person behind the harmless, bumbling act. We get a very brief but powerful example of that this week, when Collier’s colleague tries to avoid answering Columbo’s questions and clearly thinks she can act all superior to him and fob him off. The result is a momentary flash of anger:
“You’re just going to have to ask Dr Collier.”
“No I’m asking you. I’m asking you about a murder.”
Just One More Thing
There is an unintentionally funny moment in this one, as long as you’re British and a bit childish (I am both of those things). Behold the glory of the following dialogue, concerning a lab rat:
“He looks just like one of my junior editors.”
“We call her Willy.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have a Willy.”
Must. Resist. Willy. Joke.
Neither does the rat.
The gotcha moment provides us with a glorious finale to the fourth season of Columbo. I knew the blind man was going to be the key to this, because it was so carefully established and then so studiously ignored by the writer for almost the entire episode, but the manner in which Columbo uses his “witness” to trip up the very smug Collier is a punch-the-air moment. It’s just a shame that it all relies on Columbo failing to follow up on the much simpler evidence that was gifted to him right at the start, with the writer completely ignoring the fact that Collier’s car must have been dented from hitting that post, instead fussing around over the detail of the tyre tracks. It sometimes seems like Columbo wants to ignore the easy route to wrapping up a case, in favour of his usual game of cat and mouse with his enemy. For entertainment value, I’m not complaining.
We have reached the end of an incredibly strong season of Columbo, and I can’t wait to get started on the next, but some more Edgar Wallace Mysteries await before that. We will return to Columbo in a few weeks. RP