Many an episode of Columbo features the killing of a character who is so lovable that our very hearts quiver with sadness at their parting.
Oh yes, there are many wronged parties, or innocent folk simply in the way of dastardly crims’ schemes, who meet the ick, buy the farm, or are pushed off their perch prematurely.
That’s not what this blog is about, though! In fact I’m on the opposite side of the fence today, considering the victims that, one could argue, had it coming. Or at the very least are such unsympathetic types that most viewers are hollering “good riddance!” when they get their comeuppance.
“I’d like to place on the record that I under no circumstances advocate acts of violence or murder. But this is TV, so it’s OK to root for the killers if you want to.”
NB – I’d like to place on the record that I under no circumstances advocate acts of violence or murder. But this is TV, remember, folks, and the characters have been set out to evoke an emotional response, so it’s OK to root for the killers if you want to, just as it’s OK to boo at the victims and celebrate their demise. I’ve also taken quite a light-hearted approach to this article, so it’s not to be taken too seriously.
Now that’s all clarified, please read on with confidence. I’ve listed who I think are the least likable victims in no particular order, apart from the top three.
Vincent Pauley – The Conspirators
While I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy the fate of being gunned down by a smirking, whisky-swilling, limerick-reciting little gnome like Joe Devlin, Mr Pauley must surely rank as one of the least mourned of all Columbo victims. The guy’s a gun-runner for a terrorist organisation, for Pete’s sake.
We’re not meant to feel so much as a flicker of emotion towards him – and we don’t. Just as we don’t feel much sympathy towards Devlin – for all his Oirish witticisms , banjo plucking and side-splitting poetry – when he’s ultimately collared by the Lieutenant later on.
Harry Stone – Candidate for Crime
Seemingly more ape than man, Harry Stone is a whole lot of unlikable crime drama victim. He’s big, he’s aggressive, he’s ugly, he’s conceited, he’s deeply unfashionable, the orangeness of his hair causes immediate migraines/strokes…
Yep, little wonder Senatorial hopeful Nelson Hayward’s campaign manager Stone is described as ‘repugnant’ by those in the know – something the man himself appears to revel in.
Hayward’s a bit of a prick himself, as is comprehensively proven throughout the episode, but there are few mourners for his victim – either within the show or within the viewership.
Claire Daley – Fade In To Murder
TV producer Claire Daley is an ice-cold, scheming blackmailer, who has used and abused Ward Fowler’s body and talent for her own ill-gotten gains, even as she has helped make him into a household name in the guise of TV detective Inspector Lucerne.
Daley knows about Fowler’s shady past as a war deserter, and she takes payment from Fowler in ever-increasing amounts of silver certificates to keep her mouth shut. She doesn’t seem to have a heart, yet Fowler just about manages to pinpoint it as he guns her down in her favourite sandwich shop.
Karl Donner – A Deadly State of Mind
Admittedly he’s been severely wronged, knowing his vulnerable wife, Nadia, has been taken advantage of in the most beastly ways by George Hamilton’s crooked psychiatrist Mark Collier (both in the sack and through Collier pumping her with mind-altering drugs to further his own research efforts), but Karl Donner still totally fails to elicit a sympathetic audience response.
Things turn ugly and violent when he confronts the pair at the Donners’ sumptuous beach house, with big Karl unforgivably taking out his rage on Nadia, striking her viciously. He receives a fatal pokering for his sins at Collier’s hands – and few could argue that those actions weren’t justified in the heat of the moment.
Tony Goodland – Greenhouse Jungle
Okay, his intentions may have been from the heart (he wants to fake his own kidnapping to get ransom money to buy back the affection of his wife), but floppy-haired Tony Goodland is an almighty tit. He’s such a simpleton that it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for him, because it’s glaringly obvious to anyone with more than a single brain cell that he’s being double-crossed by his bellowing, bewigged uncle Jarvis (Ray Milland).
On top of that, Tony is a bona fide weirdo. I mean, he signs photos that he gives to his loved ones – wife included. That’s a special kind of weird right there. Uncle Jarvis openly admits that his nephew’s a dolt, delivering a magnificent line to Columbo: “I don’t mind revealing that my nephew isn’t worth a sack of peat moss.He’s a wife-ridden weakling whom I’ve despised for years.” Enough said…
Ric Carsini – Any Old Port in a Storm
In his own circle of hipster friends, beefcake Ric is deemed a great guy, a bastion of sporting integrity and a general all-action hero type – as well as being H-to-the-O-to-the-T in the eyes of the laydeez.
We don’t see any of that until it’s too late, though. What makes Ric so unlikable to the viewer is his cavalier joy at the thought of hurting and humiliating older half-brother Adrian, and destroying his life’s work at the winery in pursuit of what appear to be his own selfish needs.
Put in those terms, a bash to the swede, then being tied up and suffocated in a boiling wine cellar, seems a bit more like his just desserts.
Commodore Otis Swanson – Last Salute to the Commodore
One senses the world would end if the Commodore ever smiled. Luckily for the global populous there’s no chance of this, as his face is permanently set in a scowl – perhaps as a result of a furious sou’wester suddenly changing one day when he was at sea engaged in solemn activities, such as harpooning innocent dolphins, or wrestling Cthulu single-handedly.
The man is so morose that seconds after encountering him the audience is begging for someone to put him out of his misery. Thankfully it’s not a long wait. I am aware that some viewers feel a level of pity for the Commodore, largely due to the skullduggery and freeloading that surround him. I’m not one of those viewers…
Frances Galesko – Negative Reaction
What a nag! There can’t be many viewers who aren’t secretly rooting for Paul Galesko (Dick Van Dyk) when he ties up his sharp-tongued wife at a remote ranch and spells out just how miserable she’s made him all these years.
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and it’s entirely conceivable she’s so witchy to him because she knows he only cares about her money and has an eye for his hot-to-trot young assistant. We’ll never know…
Frances has got some balls, though. To give her credit, she maintains her naggy personae right until the very end, chiding and belittling Paul right up until he pulls the trigger – the only time we see real fear in her eyes. Powerful stuff from a tough cookie.
3. Bryce Chadwick – Lady in Waiting
Sister Beth appears in my list of most sympathetic Columbo killers – largely because of the treatment dished out to her by big brother Bryce, whose bid to control every aspect of her life borders on despotic, and has clearly been going on for years.
Like his father before him, Bryce oppresses Beth and will not trust her to make decisions for herself in terms of the family business or her own love life. Judging by her bookish appearance early on in the episode, he also single-handedly selects her wardrobe and buys her grandma-style nightdresses for Christmas and birthday.
Bryce fatally oversteps the mark when he arrogantly tries to end Beth’s relationship with lovable company lawyer Peter Hamilton, threatening to fire him if he doesn’t end the relationship with Beth. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and when Beth slays Bryce in cold-blood we’re firmly on her side.
As well as being a bad brother, Bryce is also a bad judge of character. He never considers that Peter really does love Beth, and he would’ve done anything – including quitting the company – for her. It all contributed to him signing his own death warrant – and we don’t care a bit.
2. Nick Franco – It’s All in the Game
Frankly I feel very little emotion for most victims in any of the ‘new episodes’, but this guy was an absolute worm, who deserved everything he got.
A violent two-timing gigolo, Nick is using and abusing Lauren Staton in a bid to make off with her oodles of loot. If that’s not bad enough, he’s two-timing Lauren with her own daughter. Worst of all, he physically abused the daughter and threatened to kill her if she revealed the situation to Lauren herself.
We have little reason to doubt Nick would have carried out his threats, so when the two women combine to put him out of the picture permanently, there’s not a viewer with a heart that isn’t backing them to the hilt.
1. Edna Brown – Swan Song
Tommy Brown’s wicked wife Edna (Ida Lupino) is the sort that gives evangelicals a bad name. Indeed, to describe her as a ‘shrew’ or even a ‘fishwife’ would be to do those particular demographics a great disservice.
To put it bluntly, Edna is an old HARPY, essentially holding Tommy to ransom so she can milk his talent to realise her dream of creating a TABERNACLE to show her love for the Lord. And, as my learned friend Jim Bourassa notes in the comments section below, Edna turns a blind eye to statutory rape, keeping the victim around as a blackmail threat, rather than, you know, help her…?
Granted, she may have raised Tommy from the gutter to make him a national star, but Edna’s as ungodly as they come and when she goes up in flames in Tommy’s artfully stage-managed plane crash, there isn’t a damp eye in the house.
“To describe Edna Brown as a ‘shrew’ or even a ‘fishwife’ would be to do those particular demographics a great disservice.”
So there we have ’em. That’s my list and I’d be most interested to hear your thoughts. I recognise that there are strong claims for several other blighters making the list, including, but not limited to, Budd Clarke from Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health; William Haynes from By Dawn’s Early Light; David Kincaid in Sex & The Married Detective; and that idiot Harold McCain from A Bird in the Hand (who might be my least favourite Columbo character of all, but who I just can’t bear to write about).
Are there any others you’d like to have seen included on this list? If so, holler in the comments section below.
I’ll be following this up very soon from the other perspective – the victims that our hearts really go out to, and who under no circumstances deserve the grisly fates dished out to them. Until then, farewell…