Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 2

Episode review: Columbo The Most Dangerous Match

DM credits

Strange as it may sound today, chess was BIG NEWS back in March 1973 when The Most Dangerous Match first aired.

Less than a year earlier, the legendary ‘Match of the Century’ between American Bobby Fischer and Russia’s Boris Spassky had gripped the globe, with Fischer’s victory regarded as a crushing defeat for the entire Soviet way of life.

Heavily influenced by this clash, The Most Dangerous Match went a step further, having Laurence Harvey’s Emmett Clayton slay his Russian opponent on the eve of their world title confrontation – almost certainly triggering a nuclear stand-off.

But is the 7th episode of Columbo‘s second season another contender for ‘Match of the Century’, or a damp squib more akin to Garry Kasparov vs Nigel Short? Let’s see…

Untitled design (1)

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Emmett Clayton: Laurence Harvey
Tomlin Dudek: Jack Kruschen
Mazoor Beroski: Lloyd Bochner
Linda Robinson: Heidi Bruhl
Dr Benson: Michael Fox
Dog: As himself
Written by: Jackson Gillis
Directed by: Edward M Abroms
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo The Most Dangerous Match

Chess Grandmaster Emmett Clayton is not in a good place right now. Waking from a psychedelic chess nightmare in a sheen of sweat, he’s either high on LSD or is having some serious anxiety about an impending chess encounter with Russian legend Tomlin Dudek. We’ll assume it’s the latter…

Clayton, you see, has been lording it over the global chess fraternity for 5 years since ill health forced Dudek into early retirement. However, now his diabetes is under control Dudek has Clayton’s crown firmly in his sights and their impending televised clash is set to be like Fischer vs Spassky all over again.

Dangerous 1

So THAT’S why restaurants have chequered tablecloths…

While Clayton is outwardly cool, calm and collected, he’s in inner turmoil. He fears defeat and when an opportunity arises to get a measure of his opponent, mano a mano, Clayton takes it. He trails Dudek to a French restaurant where the Russian heads to sate his desire for garlic snails – food most definitely not on the menu approved by his domineering coach, Mazoor Beroski.

Dudek greets Clayton warmly. He’s actually a very lovely old chap, full of fun and mischief but with a heart of gold. The two even appear to be getting along well until an impromptu chess match kicks off on the chequered table cloth of their booth. Dudek gains the upper hand, causing the irascible Clayton to storm off in a rage.

They sneak back to the hotel via the basement (to avoid Dudek being collared by his coach) and have a further game up in Clayton’s room. The result is the same: a crushing defeat for the American. When Dudek departs, Clayton goes berserk, dashing his hearing aid against the hotel room wall as the prospect of a shameful defeat the next day becomes increasingly likely.

But you don’t get to become a chess Grandmaster without a scheming brain and willingness to take risks. Clayton quickly combines those two traits and comes up with a plan to do away with Dudek for good.

“Clayton goes berserk as the prospect of a shameful defeat the next day becomes increasingly likely.”

Early the next morn, he puts his plans into action. First, he makes an airline reservation and cab booking in Dudek’s name, using a convincing Russian accent, and then rings Dudek and begs for a private meeting. Dudek agrees, and dashes off to the rendezvous – only for the wily Clayton to sneak into Dudek’s hotel room and pack his belongings into a travel bag.

Meeting Dudek downstairs, Clayton tells a sob story about how an affair with a Russian love interest has gotten out of control. He begs Dudek to write a few lines in Russian so that he can ‘copy them out’ in his own hand later. Dudek obliges, penning “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’m very ashamed” in Russian. He even kindly offers to postpone the match until Clayton is feeling better. By way of thanks, Clayton shoves the lovable Russkie through the basement doors – and straight into the hotel’s trash compactor!

Emmet Clayton

Certifiable much, Emmett?

When we next encounter Clayton, he’s sitting patiently in front of a live studio audience, eagerly awaiting the chess Clash of the Titans to commence. He’s soon called away by the police, though, as one Lieutenant Columbo seeks assistance with his investigations. The police deduce that Dudek has had cold feet, panicked and tried to flee back to Russia before tragically blundering into the trash compactor.

Dudek’s coach Beroski cannot conceive that his charge would split just prior to confirming his superiority over the American pretender. But when Clayton produces a note in Dudek’s own handwriting, claiming it was pushed under his hotel room door, things look black for the Russian. And what does the note say? “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’m very ashamed.”

Clayton makes some empty utterances over what a loss Dudek will be to the world of chess when Columbo checks him. “You’re speaking as if he’s already dead,” says the Lieutenant. In fact the tubby Soviet is clinging on to life in hospital despite massive injuries, giving Clayton one hell of a shock and a major problem still on his hands.

Columbo being Columbo is already noting suspicious activity. Dudek’s shirt smells of garlic – yet there was no garlic on his approved menu. Where did he dine? More pertinently, in packing his bag the denture-wearing Dudek managed to take his valet’s toothbrush instead of his own. Ergo, someone else packed the bag. Ergo, foul play is at hand!

“The tubby Soviet is clinging on to life in hospital despite massive injuries, giving Clayton one hell of a shock.”

Clayton, meanwhile, is snooping around the hospital. He runs into his former fiancee, Linda Robinson, who is now firmly part of Team Dudek, and who arranged the match between the two. He tells her of his meeting with Dudek at the French restaurant; and of how he, Emmett Clayton, won the impromptu match played out on the tablecloth – rocking the Russian’s confidence. He also manages to get a glimpse of Dudek’s prescribed medication list, which Linda has on her. His photographic memory ticks into overdrive.

As he transcribes the medication list in a quiet corner he’s interrupted by Columbo, who offers to treat him to an ice-cream. Clayton’s not keen to play games so departs, but Columbo gallops after him to return the pen he’d left behind. The detective then inveigles Clayton into his car to take him back to the hotel – only to actually stop at the French restaurant the chess aces visited the night before.

The proprietor of course recognises Clayton, but he can’t recall who won the chess match they played – only dimly remembering that Dudek made the first move. Clayton calmly claims victory again but is given a massive scare moments later as Columbo receives a medical phonecall, repeating the message received so Clayton can hear it.

“He’ll make a full recovery!” the relieved Lieutenant says, turning to head out. Clayton’s blood freezes in his veins before Columbo reveals he’s talking not about Dudek, but his dog, who’s recovering from an operation. Clayton lives to fight another day.

Dangerous 11
This photo features 90 different shades of brown…

That day arrives with more suspicions pointed at him by Columbo. He’s found Dudek’s chess diary, which faithfully records every match he plays. The match at the restaurant states that black resigned. But the restaurant proprietor said that Dudek started, which means he was playing as white. Clayton must have lost? The angry chess ace refutes the allegation. It’s stalemate for now.

But Clayton now makes a strong play to save his own skin. Having memorised Dudek’s medicinal needs, he slips into the Russian’s hotel room (again), and fools with the bottles in his medical cabinet. Linda comes into pick up the meds for Dudek’s next round of injections – and before you can say ‘Knight to King’s Bishop 3‘, Dudek is finally a dead man.

Columbo has a mountain of circumstancial evidence against Clayton. An interview with Linda reveals that Clayton did get a look at the meds list at the hospital. The ink from Clayton’s pen is the same type of ink that wrote the note in Dudek’s handwriting. But Columbo needs hard proof, which remains elusive – until Dog gives him a helping paw.

Dangerous 5

Dog solves the case…

The rascally pooch is on the scene as Columbo inspects the trash compactor again, and causes a scene as he gallops up the steps towards the mouth of the compactor where Dudek met his demise.

A workman grabs Dog before his suicidal urges cause a calamity, but a fellow worker tells Columbo he needn’t have worried anyway. If anything goes into the machine while it’s operating, there’s an automatic cut-off! It goes back on at the touch of a button, but the cut-off is the reason Dudek wasn’t instantly slain – and it’s the clue Columbo needs to round out his case.

Confronting Clayton at a round-robin live chess clash against a dozen or more plucky contenders, Columbo rocks the Grandmaster’s concentration as he outlines his case in a very public setting. Clayton takes the bait. “Do you think that the finest chess player in the world would make even half the mistakes you ascribe to me?” he seethes at Columbo – precisely as a Lego-haired amateur opponent symbolically check-mates him!

As Clayton bawls for proof, Columbo ushers him down to the basement. The whirring trash compactor is giving Clayton’s hearing aid trouble, so he switches it off, but the two men continue to shout to make each other out over the din of the machine.

That’s until Columbo gives the signal, and a fellow officer switches it off entirely. Maintaining the masquerade in a now eerie silence, Columbo continues to shout at the top of his lungs to get his message across. “It would be easier if I did not have to shout, but this damn machine…” he bellows.

Dangerous 4

Ay, ay, calm down, calm down…

“Well then turn the damn thing off!” screams Clayton – and Columbo finally has him. Showing Clayton the machine workings, the detective explains: “I’m sorry, Mr Clayton, but along with all the other trivial evidence that we’ve talked about, the murderer in this case just had to be a deaf man.” Clayton can only sink his head in the defeat he’d done so much to avoid, as credits roll…

Most Dangerous Match‘s best moment

In an episode low on stand-out scenes, the screaming psychedelia of the opening sequence really stands out. It’s bonkers and brilliant in equal measure, and for a modern audience might seem ridiculous, but take it for what it is (a slice of kitsch 70s’ TV par excellence) and it’s one hell of a viewing experience. Just don’t watch it while under the influence of narcotics…

Psychedelic chess 2

The opening sequence actually has to be seen to be believed

My opinion on The Most Dangerous Match

Set against the Cold War backdrop, and pitting a half-mad fiend against a chap even more lovable than your Grandpa, The Most Dangerous Match ought to be pure fun from start to finish. Yet this is an episode where the on-screen action doesn’t match the premise. In fact I’ll put it right out there: I don’t enjoy this episode on any great level.

There are several reasons, but first and foremost is the character of Emmett Clayton. Cool and cerebral, he should have been a brilliant foe and a real test for Columbo. Instead he’s a mentally unstable shambles. And that, for me at least, takes away a lot of the enjoyment.

Dangerous 8

Emmett Clayton: borderline insane?

Clayton is just too troubled to be a classic Columbo killer. The guy appears to be completely isolated from his fellow man and have a raft of serious anxiety issues. He needs help – not to be put on a stage in front of millions of viewers on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

And it’s a shame, because with more subtle treatment Clayton could have been a sensational baddie. I like the premise that he’s a fallible man masquerading behind a masterful countenance. That would humanise him and make his clash with Columbo – a masterful mind hiding behind a fallible countenance – all the more engaging. But having Clayton treading the tightrope of mania throughout denies us what could have been an encounter for the ages.

It raises serious questions as to why Clayton would agree to the match against Dudek in the first place. Dudek’s reputation precedes him. Clayton couldn’t just assume he’d win against so mighty an opponent, and his chess nightmare over the opening credits gives a reasonable insight into his state of mind in the build-up. He’s a nervous wreck!

I feel like we need to know more about this man to understand him. As it is, he has little charm or charisma, just a brooding intensity. If only the relationship between Linda Robinson and Emmett had been fleshed out a bit. As his former fiancee, she should have some decent insights to deliver to the viewer. Yet all we get is a throwaway line early on about how despicable she finds him. But why? We just don’t know.

“Cool and cerebral, Clayton should have been a brilliant foe and a real test for Columbo. Instead he’s a mentally unstable shambles.”

There was certainly time to give us a little character background and development, too, because despite this being a ‘shorter episode’ at 75 mins, at times it struggles to pace itself. Scenes at the hospital seem drawn out; likewise Columbo’s interview of Clayton at the French restaurant. It felt more like a padded 90-minute episode at times – highly unusual for the series.

Sadly, dear reader, my beefs don’t end there. For this episode also features a crime and a central clue that fail to convince. Let’s talk about that, shall we? Firstly the physical act of Clayton shoving Dudek into the trash compactor.

Eagle-eyed viewers can’t fail to notice there is a country mile between the basement doors and the mouth of the trash compactor. Dudek is also rather a heavy chap. Clayton might be able to count on a bit of an adrenaline boost as he delivered the fatal push, but for Dudek to end up in the jaws of the machine represents a formidable effort for a string-bean like Clayton. The only explanation? Dudek ‘did a Nordberg’ once he passed through the swinging doors…

On a more serious note, how about that denouement, with Columbo trapping his man with the old ‘switch-off-the-machine-to-trick-the-deaf-man’ gag? Certainly, it’s clever on paper. But it doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny. Why? Because it’s a nonsense that a deaf man would fail to notice the lack of vibrations once the machine had been turned off. He was right beside it, after all. And that, in my opinion, is such a fatal flaw that I’m never quite able to get past it.

“It’s a nonsense that a deaf man would fail to notice the lack of vibrations once the machine had been turned off.”

It begs the question of the writing: was the plan all along simply to concoct a clever way of catching a deaf murderer? Sure looks that way, and as a result the whole premise of The Most Dangerous Match feels contrived and unsatisfying.

Dangerous 13

I HEART TOMLIN!

And yet for all the above critique, this is by no means a dreadful piece of television. For one thing,  Jack Kruschen gives us a hugely likable victim in Tomlin Dudek. Indeed I rate him in the top 3 most sympathetic Columbo victims of all. Kruschen’s Dudek is warm, funny, confident, charming and caring. He’s everything Clayton isn’t, which makes his downfall all the more gut-wrenching.

We also get another heart-warming cameo, this time from ‘Dog’ who’s back where we first encountered him in Etude in Black – at the vet’s. I’m pretty hard-boiled when it comes to cuddly TV canines, but even I can’t resist how genuine the relationship between Columbo and his slovenly basset hound has quickly become. The two have actual on-screen chemistry. No wonder Dog’s such a crowd-pleaser!

But, as I alluded to earlier, there are comparatively few really memorable moments in this episode. Columbo rattling Clayton in the very public live chess arena features some decent exchanges, but if anything it just underlines how fragile the Grandmaster’s state of mind really is. He lets the Lieutenant check-mate him far too easily and by episode’s end he’s long been a spent force.

Dangerous 14

A litany of hair crimes have been immortalised in this candid snap

The same, sadly, can be said for Laurence Harvey in real life. After enjoying international movie stardom in the late 1950s and ’60s (including a Best Actor Academy Award nomination in 1960) , his career by this stage was winding down. He would die from stomach cancer only nine months after The Most Dangerous Match aired, aged just 45.

Like his chess-playing on-screen alias here, Harvey was something of an enigma in real life. Said to be reviled by many and loved by few, we can only hope that the tragic figure we saw in Emmett Clayton didn’t too closely mirror the actor himself as the curtain fell on his stellar career.

Did you know?

When Peter Falk was up for his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1961 for his turn as Abe Reles in Murder Inc. he was up against none other than Tomlin Dudek (aka Jack Kruschen), who was nominated for his role as Dr Dreyfuss in The Apartment. Both the future Columbo stars would go home empty-handed though, as Peter Ustinov scooped the statuette for his sensational work on Spartacus.

Laurence Harvey, meanwhile, earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1960 for his role as social climber Joe Lampton in Room at the Top. To round it off, Heidi Bruhl represented Germany in the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest. What a diversely talented quartet!

Read more Columbo Oscars facts here.

Oscars

Best Supporting Actor Oscars contenders in 1961: Falk and Kruschen

How I rate ’em

As you’ll have gathered from the above, I don’t rate The Most Dangerous Match too highly in the Columbo pantheons of greatness. However, while it’s lurking down with the likes of Short Fuse and Dagger of the Mind right now, it is considerably better than those two feeble episodes.

I think of it as a lower mid-tier episode – the sort I’d be perfectly happy to watch if I encountered it on TV, but wouldn’t often actively choose it from my DVD collection. Kapisch? It won’t always be languishing near the bottom of the list, that’s for sure.

Read my other reviews by clicking on the links below.

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Murder by the Book
  3. Death Lends a Hand
  4. A Stitch in Crime
  5. Lady in Waiting
  6. Prescription: Murder
  7. The Most Crucial Game
  8. Etude in Black
  9. Greenhouse Jungle
  10. Requiem for a Falling Star
  11. Blueprint for Murder
  12. Ransom for a Dead Man
  13. Dead Weight
  14. The Most Dangerous Match
  15. Short Fuse
  16. Dagger of the Mind

Disagree with my views? Then by all means let me know your thoughts below. I know several knowledgeable Columbo fans who really love this episode, so I’m prepared to believe I’ll be jeered and booed for my opinions.

And what’s next? Season 2’s thrilling finale Double Shock, featuring Martin Landau x 2 and Columbo’s most fearsome ever opponent: Mrs Peck! See you then. And thanks, as ever, for taking the time to visit the site.

Etude in Black Dog

No YOU hang up first….

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45 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo The Most Dangerous Match

  1. First, my biggest compliments for this site, im an huge fan of columbo since i was a child and every week i watch an episode.
    I have to say i like very much this episode, and Laurence Harvey is one of my favourite actors, sadly like many of you said, the ending is weakier than the rest of the episode, which is bad, since it is really a great episode to me.
    But i have to say i love the face of Harvey in the ending understanding that he kill a man and that will have to spend the rest of his life in prison for nothing, because he will be exposed to everyone, and his fear to be revelead as weak to the public will be thruth.
    and then columbo almost showing piety for the killer, and that wonderful music, i just love the final seconds of this episode.
    a big hello from Italy.

  2. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Lovely but Lethal | The columbophile

  3. Appreciate all the effort you put into this blog. Makes watching Columbo reruns much more pleasurable.

    But the lead up to the murder is ludicrous. No way would the victim/top rated chess grandmaster going into this match be spending so much time alone during the day before and hours before the match. He’d be surrounded by handlers and assistants.

    Plus, the Harvey character can’t seem to keep it together mentally more than a few hours in a row. What kind of clever murderer is he? More like a good candidate for a diminished mental capacity defense.

    When an episode starts off so implausibly, hard for Falk and/or anyone else involved to save the episode.

    Now, Harvey is hanging around the hospital. Be serious. This is getting worse rather than better.

  4. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Double Shock | The columbophile

  5. I liked this episode a lot. I think Clayton’s mental problems match his weird actions (the biggest one being his desire to meet the opponent the night before and ending up playing with him – gosh, who would do that and risk unnecessary stress?!). It’s true they could have shown some explanation for his mental issues, but I liked the idea in general – after watching the perfectly self-controlled Dr. Mayfield it was a relief of sorts to see that the killer was human as well and suffered, too. And there are many best moments there – I’d choose the restaurant chess match, the subsequent match in the room (when Dudek defeats Clayton as if the latter was a beginner) and the simultaneous exhibition during which Columbo actually accuses Clayton in public! And well, I played chess a lot as a child with my dad (before I gradually gave it up), so there is some more sentiment in me for this episode because of it, too. You seem to have a different opinion, but thanks as always for your effort to review it so carefully!

  6. Now, I know this is not the right place to discuss this at all, and it’s a bit premature as you haven’t reviewed up to season 5 yet, but I was wondering what you think about “Last Salute to the Commodore”?

    I’ve been rewatching the series for a few days now, and I got to that episode once again, and I just can’t wrap my head around it… (I’m obviously one of the people who doesn’t like the episode). Is there something I’m missing, or is the episode just that weird?

    I thought that you as an expert would have something to say about that, so I’d like to hear your take on it, if possible.

    • Thanks for your query. And a spoiler alert for future reviews but I HATE Last Salute. It’s far too weird for its own good; the parlour room reveal at the end is stupid and weak; and they did what should be impossible and made Columbo really irritating! Thank goodness they didn’t do any other episodes like it. The only good bit is when he rows away at the end. The rest is utter nonsense, and boring to boot. A waste of Robert Vaughn.

      • I had a feeling you’d feel that way, thanks for the reply! Also it looked to me like Robert Vaughn wasn’t really enjoying the episode either, he seemed really irritated to be there. So I bet he’d agree that it was a waste as well.

      • Another example of how a lame ending entirely ruins an episode. The set-up of “Last Salute” was brilliant: creating the appearance of a standard Columbo open mystery, using the Columbo trope of cutting away from violence to lull the audience into accepting Robert Vaughn’s character as the killer, giving him reasons to act just as Columbo killers always act — only to subvert everything. If only the ending could have been half as brilliant as the set-up.

      • I’d go a step further. The premise is a complete winner, but everything else is a mess. The Columbo characterisation is far too eccentric; the sidekicks are idiots; the support characters are hateful pretty much to a man/woman. It amazes me that Falk rated this episode highly when he spoke of it years later.

      • “Eccentric”? The scene where Columbo has Mac (Dennis Dugan) drive the Peugeot — eccentric? I’m aghast.

      • Just my sarcastic way of saying that we are 100% in agreement on this one. Nevertheless, I do believe that a brilliant endings would have changed our entire perspective on “Last Salute.” Great endings make for great Columbos.

      • After seeing Robert Vaughn’s masterful performance in Troubled Waters, it was almost painful to see him in Last Salute To The Commodore. Then again, compared to some of the later Columbo’s from 1989-2003, Last Salute seems almost brilliant and enjoyable to watch.

    • I have watched Last Salute To The Commodore several times, and there are only 2 good things about it: 1) The coastal/harbor scenery. 2) Susan Foster- Also beautiful in Billy Jack and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.

  7. Aw, I think you were a little harsh on this one. The nightmare scene, the restaurant game scene, the multi-game chess scene, and Jack Kruschen’s overall performance manage to make this a most worthwhile and enjoyable episode. And, as was stated above, the unstable character of Clayton might very well be quite accurate.

    At any rate, thank you for this excellent blog on one of the finest television shows ever created.

    • Thanks for your comment. It wouldn’t do for us all to like the same aspects of all the same episodes. I know that many rate this highly, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

  8. Actually one of my favourite Columbo’s and if anyone’s going to pick holes in this ending then they may as well do it for all

    And the cool but crumbling wreck if a person that our killer is, adds to the intrigue. We know how vulnerable he is from the first minute and realise that this will continually undermine him as he tries to overcome it, with a stiff haughty arrogance. The multi chess matches has to be one of the best scenes ever, that isn’t an ending, as Columbo deliciously turns the screw

    A great film, one of which I often find myself watching over and over, if its on TV

    • “if anyone’s going to pick holes in this ending then they may as well do it for all”

      I believe we do. Not to be picky, but because the quality of a Columbo ending has a disproportionate effect on the excellence of the episode. Make one list of great Columbo endings and a second list of great Columbos. The two lists won’t be very different.

    • Thanks for your comment, and to echo Richard’s words I often do pick holes in the endings in these reviews if I feel it’s warranted. I’m a huge Columbo lover, but the blog would make for a boring read if it was a 100% love-in! But even the weaker episodes are massively more enjoyable than most TV ever made.

  9. I am no expert in waste disposal grinding machines, but it seems to me that a safety device might shut off the hopper rotary blades without necessarily stopping the entire system. In other words, even if the input to the machine was temporarily disabled, vibrations might still continue in emergency situation that a deaf man might have difficulty in telling apart from a fully functioning machine.

    • You might be right, but judging how marked the background silence was once the machine was turned off, and how close they were from it, I feel sure it would be easily noticeable.

  10. I very much agree with your comments about this one being a lower mid-tier episode. It had lots of potential which never fully materialised.
    I did hear someone say this is the only episode where the murder victim dies in Columbo’s presence. I’m not sure if that is true or not?
    I also read somewhere the final 2 episodes of series 2 were originally shown in the wrong order. Again, I’m not sure if this is true or not. But if you look closely at the on-screen titles, The Most Dangerous Match has a copyright of 1973 where as Double Shock has a copyright of 1972. Maybe the same thing happened as series 1 where the stronger episode of the final 2 was saved and shown last, to end to the series on a high.

    • interesting theory but I don’t think you could consider Double Shock a particular high. Overall season 2 is turning out to be at best a mixed bag isn’t it, even the better episodes aren’t quite living up to their promise – I’ve a feeling season 3 will put things back on track!

      • I agree series 2 is a mixed bag and on the whole not as good as series 1 or series 3. But for me Double Shock is one of the highlights of series 2 due to Peter Falk’s performance, the added twist of twins which I think works well, and the relationship between Columbo and Mrs Peck. I consider it a far superior episode to The Most Dangerous Match.

      • I’m with Andy. Double Shock is an absolute gem. Quite possibly Falk’s best ever performance and it’s so much fun to view, particularly the confrontations with Mrs Peck and the glorious cookery scene. Best episode of Season 2, for, and one of the top 5 episodes in total. I do concur that Season 2 is a weaker Season than 1 and 3, but I’d also say it’s weaker than Season 4, which is really strong across the board.

  11. One thing to remember is that while the killer may not have made the most challenging opponent for Columbo, there are many, many examples of top-level chess players being mentally or emotionally unstable. The character might not have been likable or imposing, but it sure rang true to life as a chess player.

  12. Even if “the plan all along [was] simply to concoct a clever way of catching a deaf murderer,” Jackson Gillis should have been able to concoct a better “gotcha” than the one he used here. He must have recognized the logical flaw you quite correctly identified. Furthermore, Clayton wasn’t deaf; a hearing aid presupposes the ability to hear. Such a person generally can distinguish between loud noise and silence.

  13. Just one small detail, it’s not important mind you, but I’ll put it out there. When I was a freshman in college I took an acting class for the fun of it, just to satisfy some credit hours. The teacher was a visiting lecturer named Mathias Reitz who played Dudek’s “coach” Anton. I didn’t care much for Reitz, we didn’t see eye to eye. As for the episode, I don’t think it’s as bad you say it is, it has its moments. Clayton could have been a better killer, there’s some details you mentioned that bother me, but the job Jack Kruschen does as Tomlin Dudek saves it.

  14. I’ve never particularly liked this episode and i think its down to the guest killer, he is just plain unlikable. As already mentioned he has no charisma in the part and the whole episode feels like a bit of a chore to sit through.

    What was most interesting for me is that there is a scene where Emmett breaks into Dudek;s apartment and you can see someone sitting in the lounge, presumably a member of the crew who ended up on camera by mistake,

  15. I agree. It SHOULD be a top 10 episode but falls flat. All the ingredients are there, but the recipe doesn’t come together as it were. Clayton’s lack of composure doesn’t bother me too much since he’s on edge right from the beginning. He hasn’t had an opportunity to relax and regain his mental calm. Even then though, this one leaves me a bit cold.

  16. I think the script carefully avoids explicitly referring to the victim and his entourage as Russian. Obviously an Eastern bloc country, and assumed by the viewer to be Russia because we’re talking chess here, but it’s always left vague. The fake note is referred to as being in “your language”, not Russian.

    At least this was what the people I watched the episode with said after we’d watched it and I couldn’t think of an instance to prove them wrong.

    • American tv series were often coy abut calling a spade a spade in the 70s and 80s, in particular they had an aversion to naming specific foreign countries – maybe they were hedging their bets against a future time when they hope to sell the show to those countries?

      As for the episode, a fair to middling one. I agree it would have been better if Clayton had been more in control of himself instead of being so mentally unstable. Strangely this episode ends up having a very likable victim and sort of sympathetic murderer which may detract from the drama?

    • It was a weird television tradition to never refer to Russia or the Soviet Union by name – Mission: Impossible, Get Smart and The Avengers were similarly coy about “the other side” – but it wasn’t just TV. Comic books of the time would come up with new names for organized crime (“the Maggia”) or the devil (never the *real* devil, it was some low-rent demon called “Satannish” or the like). The past is like another planet sometimes.

    • Well, well. I’ve never even noticed that they don’t mention Russia! Did Clayton not request an airline ticket back to Moscow for Dudek when making the phony reservation for him? I’d have to revisit that scene to be sure.

  17. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Stitch in Crime | The columbophile

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