Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 3

Episode review: Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

Mayhem 2

Columbo took a sci-fi twist (of sorts) on 10 February 1974 as the doughty Lieutenant was thrust into a world of supercomputers and robots in his attempts to crack the case in Mind Over Mayhem.

With a support cast boasting Oscar winner Jose Ferrer and silver screen veteran Lew Ayres, a cameo from Forbidden Planet‘s Robby the Robot and a writing credit to the incomparable Steven Bochco, on paper this ought to be a thrilling romp allowing us to set our phasers firmly to ‘fun’.

But is Mind Over Mayhem at TV’s cutting edge, or is it an obsolete dud destined for the scrapheap? Let’s take a look!

Mind Over Mayhem cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Dr Marshall Cahill: Jose Ferrer
Professor Howard Nicholson: Lew Ayres
Neil Cahill: Robert Walker
Margaret Nicholson: Jessica Walter
Steven Spelberg: Lee H. Montgomery
MM7: Robby the Robot
Ross: Lou Wagner
Dog: As himself
Directed by: Alf Kjellin
Written by: Steven Bochco, Dean Hargrove and Roland Kibbee (from a story by Robert Sprecht)
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

Cybernetic research institute director – and bona fide genius – Dr Marshall Cahill is presiding over a nuclear war simulation from an isolated computer room awash with blinking lights.

He’s clearly outsmarting the collective IQ in the war room below, reporting that their bungling tactical approach has led to 75% of the western hemisphere’s population being wiped out. Eat defeat, Brainiacs!

Cahill dismisses the oafs upon receiving a note from an underling that fellow genius, Professor Howard Nicholson, wants to see him urgently – and this ain’t no friendly chinwag.

No, old Howard is about to rain on the Cahill family parade BIG TIME! Cahill’s son, Neil, is just about to claim the Scientist of the Year Award for his ground breaking theory of molecular matter. But Howard knows Neil plagiarised the work of the now-dead Carl Finch and claimed the work as his own. Why? To win the affection of his cold-hearted, tyrannical father.

If Neil won’t admit this fraud himself and refuse the award Howard will spill the beans, heaping shame on the Cahill clan. Do we think Marshall will allow that to happen? Not on your nelly! Howard’s obstinance means he’s just signed his own death warrant.

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“Yo Steve, can I borrow your robot for half an hour?”

Cahill swiftly puts a fiendish plan into action. Sending boy genius Steven Spelberg out for an evening at the drive-in with car pool mechanic Merv, Cahill commandeers Spelberg’s super-intelligent robot MM7 to man the war simulator and create his alibi. Then, pinching his assistant’s designated pool car, Cahill heads out to Murderville, population 1.

His target, of course, is that old gadger Howard, who is cooing at his young wife Margaret. A psychologist, she’s heading out to an all-night group therapy marathon, leaving Howard to an evening of pipe smoking and government-approved heroine experimentation in his garage-cum-chemical lab. As you do…

Margaret’s a minimum of 30 years younger than Howard, but the love seems genuine. She pecks him a farewell, assuring him she’d never trade him in for a younger model and promising him a kipper breakfast the next day, which, reading massively between the lines, can only be a euphemism. Kinky devils…

However, I digress…

After she’s beetled off, who should we see lurking in the shadows in the ‘borrowed’ car but Dr Cahill. He boops his car horn a few times, piquing Howard’s curiosity sufficiently for the old rogue to wander out onto his driveway to investigate. It’s the last thing he ever does as Cahill rams into him with the car, smashing the ancient chemist’s fragile form and slaying him outright.

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Pool Car 1 – 0 Elderly Chemist

Cahill then slings Howard over his shoulder and carries him indoors, leaving him as a hot mess on the living room floor. He steals Howard’s watch and wallet (later dissolving them in a vat of acid), and sets up the living room table with two brandy glasses and a burnt match in an ashtray to set a scene of convivial chatting gone awry.

Having also taken Howard’s confidential file on Carl Finch’s research plus a canister of heroine to suggest a crazed addict’s involvement, Cahill busts a groove back to the institute to relieve MM7 from its war room duties and before you can say ‘Bob’s your Uncle’, the killing is all wrapped up in plenty of time for a pre-bed Ovaltine.

Could there be a fly in the ointment, though? Cahill notices that the pool car has a huge, corpse-shaped dent on the hood. Yet the sly rascal covers his tracks by  backing his regular car into it amidst a sea of witnesses. “I just can’t get used to these transmissions,” he whimpers in faux shame. Yes, that’s some nice cover-up work, Marshall.

Lieutenant Columbo is alerted to the crime the following morning from the office of a dog obedience school, where Dog has been expelled for ‘demoralising the other students’. As a result, Columbo is forced to head to the crime scene with the lovable mutt in tow.

Columbo Dog

Seems like Dog’s obedience school days are over FOR-EV-ERRR!

Popular opinion on da street is that old Howard was given a good clubbing in his own living room by assailant unknown, who made off with watch, wallet and heroine. Of course Columbo is soon seeing things his fellow officers have missed. There’s a match in the ashtray that is peculiarly burnt. Howard’s pipe is missing from his rack, but is not in the living room. Where could it be? Columbo even spots scuff marks from polished shoes high up on the living room door. How did they get there?

The newly widowed Margaret (not nearly emotional enough for my liking) answers a few of the Lieutenant’s questions. No, Howard wasn’t expecting visitors that evening. Yes, the living room had been spotlessly clean at 5pm, so the burnt match must have been placed there later. In any case, Howard didn’t use matches to light his pipe – he used a special lighter.

Who should then arrive at the scene but Dr Cahill! He shoos Margaret away and fields Columbo’s next round of questions. Things are bothering Columbo already. If Howard was working in the garage, why did a struggle take place in the lounge? If Howard knew someone well enough to be having a tete-a-tete in the living room, isn’t it odd that that person would dish out a violent death to the old timer? And if the killer was a chum of Howard’s, wouldn’t they have cleared up the drink glasses after the killing to make it look like no one was there?

“Popular opinion on da street is that old Howard was given a good clubbing in his own living room by assailant unknown.”

“It was probably a psychopath,” suggests Cahill unhelpfully, before going on to suggest that Howard was a stubborn old git who irritated lots of people. He then exits stage left to return to the institute.

Left to his own devices, Columbo hits something akin to the jackpot: he finds Howard’s smashed pipe on the driveway. Combined with the shoe polish on the door and it’s starting to look a lot like Howard was killed outside and carried in to the living room. But (to quote Riley Greenleaf) WHO, WHY? He heads off to the institute for answers.

His first target is ‘ace’ mechanic Merv, who is tinkering with Pool Car #6 – AKA the murder weapon. Columbo notices the dent on the hood, which Merv attributes to Dr Cahill backing into it – a fact the Lieutenant mentally squirrels away.

Could anyone else have taken this car last night and used it for foul play, Columbo wonders? Not a chance, says Merv. His meticulous key guarding and log-keeping skillz mean he’d definitely know if anyone other than the car’s designated user (Cahill’s assistant, Ross) had moved the car so much as an inch. So how come there’s three extra miles on the odometer, Columbo asks when Merv produces the log book? Either someone has moved the car, or Merv is an absolute incompetent. Either possibility seems plausible…

Leaving Dog with Merv (his intellectual equal), Columbo heads off to find Dr Cahill, who is fresh from a furious argument with Neil, who has abandoned the award presentation in the aftermath of Howard’s murder.

Columbo reveals that he found the smashed pipe and that it looks for all the world like a deliberate hit-and-run killing. But the set-up in the living room is most confusing. Could it be a blind to confuse authorities? If so, only someone with a devilishly high intellect could have concocted it. And guess what – we’re in an institute full of geniuses, so the killer could be anyone!

Cahill’s assistant Ross is summoned to be grilled about his pool car’s mystery extra mileage. Ross, clearly a shaved wolfman, is instantly flailing in a panic as he has no decent alibi. But Columbo eliminates the wimp as a suspect. He’s not tall enough, you see, so could never have hoisted Howard high enough off the ground to have caused the scuff marks on the door.

Wolfmen

Just 2 months later, assistant Ross was a rabid wolfman: the result of an institute experiment gone horribly wrong

Cahill, now smoking a handsome Cuban cigar, then moves to strike himself off Columbo’s suspect list. Taking the detective to the war simulation control room, Cahill presents his alibi: at the time of Howard’s death, Cahill was in this room overseeing virtual global Armageddon. The folk in the war room will be able to corroborate that the simulation took place, and only Cahill knows how to run that particular program, so he’s certainly in the clear, right?

Columbo seems disappointed. “You know, Doctor, I’ve been running into people by the dozens who couldn’t have murdered Professor Nicholson,” he mourns. ” I wish I could run into one who COULD have.”

His disappointment is soon tempered by a meeting with that resident boy genius Steve, who amazes Columbo by introducing him to lumbering robot MM7. They even shake hands, and Spelberg assures Columbo that the automaton can do ‘almost anything a man can do.’

Rather than immediately disproving the young oik’s theory by challenging the robot to gallop down a staircase, Columbo instead leaves Dog in their custody and starts poring through Howard’s classified files, which have all been returned to the institute from his garage. He finds that the Carl Finch file is missing!

Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

Columbo has no luck getting any information from the secretive Margaret

Margaret walks in, claiming to have been looking for him; a fact Columbo disputes because only the judge who granted his search warrant knew where he was. Ergo Margaret must have been looking for classified information herself! The mysterious dame doesn’t deny it, but claims doctor/patient privilege means she can’t say anything more. She turns tail and departs.

They meet again shortly after, though, as she gatecrashes a discussion between Columbo and young Neil, who is himself a patient of Margaret’s. Neil admits under cross-examination that he’d been to secretly see Margaret the night before just prior to taking his flight to the science jamboree, but he won’t say why.

Neil, naturally, is terrified that Columbo is trying to fit him up for the killing. Spurred on by Margaret, he admits to his father that he plagiarised the theory of molecular matter. Rather than going berserk, Cahill Senior orders Neil to keep this revelation a secret in order to avoid implicating himself in Howard’s murder, and he assures his trembling son that he’ll deal with the Lieutenant himself.

But where is Columbo? He’s hangin’ with young Steve again as the wunderkind is trying to crack the case by entering evidence into his lab’s supercomputer. Sadly, the only feedback the machine has to offer is: Does not compute.

Don’t despair, bruh, Stevie Boy tells Columbo. He’ll program MM7 to continue running evidence through the computer. After all, he can do almost everything a man can do if programmed correctly. And that gives Columbo a flash of inspiration, or, as he memorably puts it: “Something just computed.”

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Dr Cahill excels at shirtily switching off misbehaving robots

Cut to Dr Cahill showing some UN delegates how the war room works. All of a sudden the simulator goes haywire, beeping like crazy and flashing its lights like a downtown disco. Cahill thunders up to the control room in a fit of pique to find MM7 boobing around with the controls as Columbo and Steve look on.

Switching off the robot, a seething Cahill sends Steve away in disgrace before turning on Columbo. When the detective attempts to absolve Spelberg from blame, claiming the idea was all his, Cahill even retorts: “I doubt it, you haven’t got the brains for it!”

But Columbo has brains enough to have proved two things: MM7 can operate the war simulator; and Cahill knows how to operate the robot. That means his alibi ain’t worth a pinch of salt. Still, Cahill isn’t worried. Columbo can’t prove MM7 was at the simulator controls when Howard was killed, and the cops can’t beat a confession out of a robot, can they? “A theory isn’t worth a damn unless it can be proved,” he hisses.

Columbo won’t give in, though. Minutes later he’s on the phone to Neil, wanting to ask him questions about Carl Finch. Dr Cahill, now with Neil, snatches the phone away and threatens to report Columbo to his superiors! Cahill Snr then urges Neil to remain calm and keep quiet until he returns from a trip to Portland the next day, when they’ll find a way to put it all to rights.

This never happens. On his return to LA the next evening, Dr Cahill is accosted by men of the press who reveal that Neil has come clean about plagiarising the theory. Alarmed, Cahill races back to the institute, presumably to give Neil a damn good thrashing.

mayhem-10.jpg

For a little fella, Neil sure can scream “THAT MAN IS LYING!” at a mighty volume!

Columbo and a gaggle of fellow officers arrive at the same time. Stitching Neil up like a kipper, the Lieutenant arrests him for murder while accusing him of having an affair with Margaret. He had motive, method and opportunity, plus a ‘witness’ who will swear Neil and Madge regularly met at a motel, signing in as man and wife.

“THAT MAN IS LYING!” bellows Neil, to no avail. He’s frogmarched off downtown, leaving Cahill alone in the lab. As the realisation dawns on him of what he’s brought upon his own son, he gives chase – only to find Columbo waiting for him in the deserted corridor outside.

Utterly defeated, Cahill admits his guilt. But Columbo already knows. How? It was all down to the match left in Howard’s ashtray. The Lieutenant knows better than anyone that the match had to have been left by a cigar smoker given how burnt it was. “That first day I couldn’t give a hoot in hell about a thief,” Columbo reveals. “I was looking for a cigar smoker and there you were.”

Assuring Cahill that Neil will be released within an hour, and acknowledging that he believes Cahill acted out of love for his son, Columbo presents the Doctor with a Cuban and the two sit back to enjoy a final, companionable smoke as credits roll…

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Despite being bested, Dr Cahill found solace in the fact that his shoes were by far the shinier

Mind Over Mayhem‘s best moment

It’s an episode low on standout moments, but the best of the bunch must be Columbo’s introduction to MM7. Falk hits just the right level of amazement and bafflement as the colossal android lumbers out of a cupboard to shake hands. It’s also a credit to the writers that they didn’t overplay the novelty of the robot and have it overshadow the whole episode, or do something ridiculous like have it actually solve the crime.

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MM7 was obsolete 5 minutes after this episode ended when man invented the pocket calculator

Network plans for a spin-off series with MM7 as a crime-fighting LAPD robot amazingly never made it off the ground – a tragedy that still casts a long shadow over global TV history to this day.*

My opinion on Mind Over Mayhem

From its opening scenes of supercomputers ablaze with flashing lights and a big-screen war simulation complete with flashy graphics, Mind Over Mayhem thrusts us into a near sci-fi world that seems a million miles away from the locations usually reserved for Lieutenant Columbo.

At one point this may have looked cutting edge. To the modern audience, though, it all seems amazingly dated. Indeed, given that the laptop or mobile device you’re reading this on is more powerful than all the computers and robots in the cybernetic research institute put together, this is a hard episode to now take seriously.

Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

Cutting edge tech of the 70s has aged SO BADLY!

That might not matter if this was a typically excellent Columbo, with its usual perfect mix of intrigue, humour, well-written characters, a brilliant clue and fine chemistry between leads. Sadly Mind Over Mayhem boasts none of the above. In fact I’m going to set my stall out early and say that this is easily one of the poorest Columbo outings of the entire 70s’ run.

It falls short in many areas, so I’ll get the lesser ones out of the way first. To start with, this looks and feels cheap. It’s predominantly set in a research lab, so there are plenty of grey corridors and featureless rooms. This denies the viewer the very real pleasure of seeing Columbo poking his nose into the homes and lifestyles of LA’s filthy rich.

“Mind Over Mayhem is easily one of the poorest Columbo outings of the 70s.”

It’s also deeply unstylish compared to the norm. The crazy 70s’ fashions are part of what makes watching Columbo such a pleasure today. Here it’s much more subdued, with lab coats and grey suits much more in evidence. Zzzzz…

Much more damning than all this, though, are the weirdly written characters. Margaret Nicholson, in particular, is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. She professes to love her husband, but shows no sadness at his loss. Instead she stolidly refuses to answer Columbo’s questions about who might have reason to kill her husband, citing doctor/patient privilege.

Columbo Jessica Walter

Cold fish: Margaret Nicholson

The patient in question is Neil, but the two have a very odd relationship. Is he dependent on her, as result of unrequited love and years of bullying by his father? Does she have feelings for Neil at all? Have they been leaping into bed behind Howard’s back, or is it strictly professional?

There’s certainly more going on than meets the eye, and quite what we’re supposed to make of it all is baffling. More likely than not, Margaret’s dark edge was added in as a feeble attempt to make her seem aloof and mysterious enough to add a layer of complexity to Columbo’s investigations that the episode otherwise lacks.

Her role ultimately poses more questions than answers, leaving the viewer scratching their head trying to figure out what the hell she’s playing at with Neil when she should be mourning her husband who, lest we forget, she found dead only that morning!

Indeed the average viewer would be more moved at Howard’s death than his widow seems to be. Because although Howard is made out to be something of a crotchety old meddler, his death comes close to wrenching the heart strings when you consider what must be running through his head in his final moments. As he shambled out onto the driveway in response to the car horn honking, he can only have assumed it was Margaret bearing down on him – very sad thoughts to carry to the grave.

That moment aside, it’s hard to feel much emotional attachment to this episode and its characters. Neil manages to evoke our sympathy, and Robert Walker does a decent job of portraying his sad desperation to finally please his father, but once the episode’s over he doesn’t linger long in the memory like some of the truly great supporting characters.

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“Time for a haircut, Neil.” “Why, Cueball? Jealous?”

Far more disappointing is the great Jose Ferrer’s portrayal of Dr Marshall Cahill. The Oscar-winning actor is hardly at his best here. His character is supposedly a genius but does knack-all to support that premise, and offers little beyond growing irritation to spice up his relationship with Columbo. Above all he seems like a mean-spirited nag and is no fun to watch. In fact he’s one of the most lifeless adversaries Columbo takes on in these early seasons.

It’s left to Falk (typically good), Dog (who outshines most of his human counterparts), and young Spelberg (named in homage to Steven Spielberg, the ‘boy genius’ director at the helm for Murder by the Book) to inject the energy and fun into this drab affair.

When they’re all together is when the episode is as its most watchable, with man and boy swiftly building rapport as they bond over dogs and robots. Spelberg even raises some smiles as he shamefully admits that his biological father is ‘a barber in San Jose‘, and that he built his first robot – a Mickey Mouse robot – at the age of three and created a further six before his ninth birthday. Good effort, son!

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At the age of 8, Steve Spelberg is a 7-robot veteran

Quite what led Spelberg to begin his life anew at the institute is a puzzle never solved, but he certainly seems to have more smarts than anyone else there – including Dr Cahill, who makes such a mess of the crime that he deserves everything that’s coming to him.

For it is the crime itself, and the subsequent evidence that is left at the scene, that damns this episode the most. To put it bluntly: Cahill totally bungled it. His course of action was entirely illogical for a so-called genius.

“It is the crime itself, and the subsequent evidence that is left at the scene, that damns this episode the most.”

Sure, do a hit and run, steal the watch, wallet, heroine and classified file – but then get the hell out of Dodge! Returning Howard to the living room and setting up a cosy scene to suggest pals have been  chatting over brandy makes no sense at all. It can only have been written that way as a means of justifying Cahill’s lighting of a cigar, therefore leaving the ‘pop’ clue of the burnt match in the ashtray for Columbo to find. But there was absolutely no logical reason for Cahill to do this.

If he hadn’t left the match there, could Columbo have cracked the case? Certainly it would have been a whole lot harder. And it’s this aspect of the episode that is most disappointing to me. The clue had too much influence over the telling of the story, ultimately resulting in one of the biggest Columbo duds to date.

Not that Peter Falk seems to share my concerns. According to Mark Dawidziak’s 1989 book The Columbo Phile, this was one of Falk’s most cherished clues. To me it shows that a decent clue doth not a classic episode make. It surprises and disappoints to know that Steven Bochco has his name attached to this swill.

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Falk plays hardball throughout but is let down by a lame story that even he struggles to salvage

If anything, the clue restricted the potential of the episode because the backdrop of the cybernetics institute could have offered us something really different. How about somehow using all of that AI to actually cause the death of Howard? Could MM7 have been programmed to pull a trigger, or squeeze the life out of a man, before returning to his cupboard? That could have been a delicious twist, and posed some interesting morality questions about man using machinery to play God. The possibilities offered up by the futuristic setting were barely scratched.

Still, and despite all the nonsense, the episode still manages to round out on a poignant note. In killing to protect his son, and in admitting his guilt to free his son, Dr Cahill was, at last, acting out of love.

Can we consider this the first step on the path to redemption for Cahill after years of dominating and browbeating his son? I rather hope so. And that may ultimately be the episode’s biggest success: leaving the reflective viewer with a sense of sadness and deeper questions to ponder well beyond the closing credits.

Did you know?

RobbyRobby the Robot set a world record in November 2017, becoming the most expensive movie prop ever sold at auction at a cost of $5.3 million! Rumour has it that his starring role in Columbo added $2 million to the price tag…

Remarkably, Peter Falk’s iconic raincoat and shoes (that he wore throughout the 70s run – including in Mind Over Mayhem) failed to sell at the same auction after having been expected to fetch between $80,000-$120,000.

How I rate ’em

As you’ll have gathered from the above I’m so little enamoured with Mind Over Mayhem, that it plunges right down towards the murky depths of the list, where I anticipate it may stay until we start dredging through some of the dross served up in the ’80s and ’90s comeback episodes.

Read any of my past episode reviews via the links below.

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Publish or Perish
  3. Double Shock
  4. Murder by the Book
  5. Death Lends a Hand
  6. A Stitch in Crime
  7. Double Exposure
  8. Lady in Waiting
  9. Any Old Port in a Storm
  10. Prescription: Murder
  11. The Most Crucial Game
  12. Etude in Black
  13. Candidate for Crime
  14. Greenhouse Jungle
  15. Requiem for a Falling Star
  16. Blueprint for Murder
  17. Ransom for a Dead Man
  18. Dead Weight
  19. The Most Dangerous Match
  20. Lovely but Lethal
  21. Short Fuse
  22. Mind Over Mayhem
  23. Dagger of the Mind

Better luck next time, eh? And next time will be Swan Song, starring perennial crowd pleaser Johnny Cash. It’s many a fan’s absolute favourite, so check back in soon! Until then, keep outta trouble!

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Steve – if you’re dad’s a barber in San Jose couldn’t you have asked him for a short back and sides before filming?


 

Did you view Mind Over Mayhem when it originally aired in 1974? Did it ever appear to be cutting edge? Let me know in the comments below!

*This is absolute fiction.

 

62 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Mind Over Mayhem

  1. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo By Dawn’s Early Light | The Columbophile

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  3. This review was highly entertaining and so funny! It makes up for what the entire episode lacks.

    I don’t quite understand the need to smoke in the middle of a murder. And, wouldn’t it have struck the doctor that he didn’t even put the victim’s prints on one of the glasses?

    A couple of your rib-tickling quotes:
    The car had a “corpse-shaped dent” – funny description!!
    “It’s also a credit to the writers that they didn’t overplay the novelty of the robot and have it … do something ridiculous like have it actually solve the crime.”

    It’s good to know that as unenjoyable as a Columbo episode might be, there’s a review to make up for it.

    • Your comments have pleased me greatly, thank you very much. I enjoyed writing this one, because I could poke a bit of fun at proceedings. Nice to know others can share in that fun!

  4. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo An Exercise in Fatality | The columbophile

  5. I’m sorry to be nitpicky but the drug is spelled “Heroin”. “Heroine” with an E means a female hero.

  6. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Friend in Deed | The columbophile

  7. I agree the episode is a dud, but I’d like to add one more reason to think so (that I’m surprised has not been mentioned previously). Columbo finally gets his man by… framing his son? That’s low. Come on Lieutenant, we expect better from you.

    The episode does however contain one of my favourite mini-dialogues of the series. Everything said between Columbo and Dr. Cahill after Cahill realizes Columbo knows it was the computer and not Cahill directing the war games is priceless. Columbo’s rejoinder that “You just saved a lot of time there, doctor”, and Cahill’s counter to the effect of you can’t take the computer to a back room and beat a confession out of it, or get it to turn state’s evidence, is spoken word gold.

  8. I enjoy your reviews. I just like the show so much, that I never think of an episode as really awful- but I do think of some as not too good. The bit with this dog in the beginning was cute- I always loved stuff with his Basset Hound. I liked seeing Robbie the Robot pop up- it was always fun seeing Robbie pop up places. But overall, it just felt this episode was rather lackluster- and for me, this episode was definitely “not great”.

  9. I watch a Columbo episode every week and repeat it until the next week. I came to your website and I just happened to be on this episode now. I agree this is one of the more lackluster episodes up to this point and maybe even overall.

    Too many plot points don’t make any sense as you masterfully pointed out already in fantastic form.

    I will say, repeating episodes for a week straight allows me to really appreciate each episode and it helps me determine which ones I love and which ones I just really like. My way of knowing is at the end of the weekend on Sunday when it is the last day for that Columbo, I either am bummed I have to move on to the next one or I am excited to see the next one. Obviously if I am bummed it means I loved that particular episode.

    By the way, I used to detest Dagger of the Mind. Absolutely hated it. But after my week of repeat viewings, it grew on me! I actually think it is miles better than this episode. And probably rank it above Short Fuse as well.

    Looking forward to your next review!!!! Keep up the outstanding work. I love your site.

    Oh and Last Salute to the Commodore – I don’t get all the hate. Hahaha I actually really enjoy that one! Maybe because it did try something different? Not sure. I know it is regarded as one of the worst episodes from the original Columbo run; I think on IMDb it gets the lowest or 2nd lowest rating out of all 46 episodes.

    • Thanks for such a thoughtful comment and for sharing your approach to watching Columbo! I don’t think I would have the staying power to watch Mayhem or Dagger for a week myself, though!

      Re. Last Salute, I don’t mind that they tried something different. I just think the execution is so bad that the differences become part of the problem. It could have worked if less weird, but I find it almost unwatchable. The review, when I get to it, should make for interesting reading!

  10. The clue about the burned match which Peter Falk considered outstanding (as Mark Davidziak says in his “Columbo Phile”) doesn’t convince me. Not necessarily it had been used to light a cigar; it also could have been used to burn evidence or it simply was watched burning down because fire looks so beautiful.
    Dr. Cahill really could have waited and seen whether Columbo would succeed with his faked evidence. No need to give himself away without hesitation and confess to the murder, just because his crime turned out to be useless (because his son confessed to the plagiarism).

    This blog revisits Columbo’s cases in much more detail than Mark Dawidziak’s Columbo Bible. It’s only natural that I can’t fully agree on the personal ranking order. The series consists of too many ingenious episodes for every fan to accept the other fan’s ranking, but I am very glad to see two rather weak ones on its bottom and two really strong and often underestimated ones on its top. It’s interesting that so many years after Columbo had ceased to exist this blog brings him back to life. In former times I could look forward to the next new episode; now I can look forward to the next new review and leave my comments.

  11. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Swan Song | The columbophile

  12. I will say that, if Mind Over Mayhem and Dagger Of The Mind are examples of Columbo at its worst, what a flipping excellent show. Because those “terrible” episodes are still actually fun and entertaining, if not optimum.

  13. i dont agree entirely this review first of all yes it is far from a great columbo and it is dreary paticuarley the murderer the central clues are sloppy and a shambles lack of humor except one or two scenes with the robot and boy genius.
    also what murderer would be so careless as to leave 2 scuff marks halfway up the door and not wipe them off even a donkey would haven’t made that mistake.
    but i still wouldn’t put it as low as 22 yes its better than dagger of the mind but surely its better than short fuse which was nonsense bar the ending , lovely but lethal which was rubbish and as bad as any etude in black which was overrated ,dead weight which was hopeless its on a bout the same level as the most dangerous match and greenhouse jungle for me also requiem was also slightly worse so not a 100 % fair review for me.

    • I rate Short Fuse nominally ahead of this because it’s much more fun (despite being poor overall), the crime is clever and effectively portrayed and the ending is excellent. Lovely but Lethal is above it because Viveca Scott was an excellent villain and Vincent Price was a joy to watch, albeit it in a small role. Dead Weight is plodding but features a more gripping head to head. Etude is over-rated but is leagues above Mayhem in my opinion.

  14. I wholeheartedly agree that Mind Over Mayhem is a complete mess. How you still rank Dagger of the Mind below it is anyone’s guess.

    First, the crime makes no sense. Nicholson clearly tells Cahill: “I’ve asked my wife to persuade Neil to confess his plagiarism to the National Science Organization and to decline the award at the luncheon in San Francisco tomorrow.” So Cahill knows that Margaret knows about the plagiarism — and not from a doctor-patient confidence. Why does Cahill think that killing Nicholson alone will keep Neil’s secret from getting out?

    Second, the episode takes a great clue — the cigar match — and wastes it by using it (as you so correctly observe) in such a inexplicable way. Did Dr. Cahill drop the match for a reason? I cannot fathom one. Or is he simply careless? That’s not how he is portrayed.

    Third, the episode goes techno-goofy. Suddenly Columbo abandons his notebook for a mini-cassette recorder? Why, because he’s surrounded by machines? And did Steve Spelberg invent his own Bat-computer (into which you can “feed evidence” and pop out the solution to the crime)?

    Finally, this is the second episode which the killer tries to blame a crime on a drug addict stealing heroin from a container labelled only with its chemical formula. (A Stitch in Crime was the first,) So Mayhem also loses points for lack of originality.

  15. While not the best Columbo, this episode still has many entertaining moments. I enjoy this much more than ‘The Conspirators’, ‘Candidate for a Crime’ or ‘Etude in Black.'(love Blythe in that one, though) While you were a little harsh in your review, all the great elements you mentioned from the episode adds up to a very rewatchable Columbo.
    I was ten when this aired; I can’t remember watching when it first came out. While the computer is outdated, the robot most certainly is not. I have seen one very much like it in a factory recently-more advanced, yes, but clearly a robot cousin.
    I think of Margaret as being detached/professional rather than dark, but I can’t argue with her being a cold fish here. I think the Neil was just a patient, face it, he’s no Clint Eastwood. She does’t want none of that.
    I don’t know what ‘dad’ was trying to prove with his staging. He must be one of those genius people with little common sense.
    I think he was given the role of dour disapproving dad and that’s the way he played it.

    Lee Montgomery as the kid did a great job, in my opinion. catch him in ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ -the movie.
    Thanks for the review! They’re always fun to read.

    ps Ross looks like he could be related to Shirley Blaine from Lovely but Lethal.

  16. I agree, this is not a great episode. I think Robert Walker’s acting was over the top histrionics, and I don’t know how Jessica Walters got paid for this for the amount of effort she put in to her character. However, the moment when Columbo gets mad at Margaret and says she’s a very bad liar is to me the best moment of the episode. I can also see why Lee Montgomery (the Spelberg boy as Cahill calls him) had a short acting career.

    And just what is a new theory of molecular matter, anyway?

  17. I just saw this episode last night and agree it is in the lower tier of episodes in the original Columbo series. There is one interesting footnote however. If you don’t blink you will see M*A*S*H’s William Christopher who trades in Father Mulcahy’s collar for a lab coat as one of the scientists in the war room. Sadly he does not have any dialogue. If he had then there might have been more jocularity in this episode.

  18. Thank you–we thoroughly enjoyed your review, Columbophile. We were laughing outloud. As always, your photo captions were hilarious:

    “Pool Car 1 – 0 Elderly Chemist”;
    “Just 2 months later, assistant Ross was a rabid wolfman: the result of an institute experiment gone horribly wrong”;
    “Time for a haircut, Neil.” “Why, Cueball? Jealous?”

    All excellent points. #37 on my all-time favorites list. Jose Ferrer is wonderful. “Father loves his son”. My friend was stand-in and photo-double for his son Miguel filming his last episode of NCIS: Los Angeles one year ago.

  19. I agree with Columbophile that this was a poor episode–plodding, spending way too much time admiring the gee-whiz robot and supposed geniuses (though Steven’s reaction at being sent to the movies was a nice, realistic touch). Jose Ferrer’s performance was flat. I enjoyed Dagger of the Mind way more, actually!

  20. Totally agree with your review, and the fact Jose Ferrer was a dud as the villain… no great cat and mouse game like you see with Patrick McGoohan, Jack Cassidy…. or even with Ian Buchanan). I can watch most Columbo episodes multiple times (Troubled Waters, By Dawn’s Early Light, Agenda for Murder, Negative Reaction, etc), but after seeing this episode once I realized it is one of the few that I don’t really have any desire to watch again. I think even Murder in Malibu was more entertaining as even though it’s a terrible episode, that Andrew “I have a trunk filled with flowers” Stevens is unintentionally hilarious as he can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag… like watching a train wreck.

  21. Saw every Columbo on the 1st run, was 6 when it premiered. In 1974 computers of any kind were not common. Aside from Star Trek, Space 1999 and Dr Who they weren’t shown much. Yes. it is dated but it’s also accurate, computers were room sized and tape driven. You also have to remember that the computers that were used on board the Apollo space ships were less powerful than cell phones.

    • Lol. Last salute to the commodore is my least favorite of all columbos. I’ve probably only watched it twice. It’s horrible!. Can’t wait to see what everyone else thinks of it.

      • I’m a snob and don’t consider any of the episodes beyond 1978 when discussing “Columbo.” That said, “Commodore” is so dreadful that I’d rather watch “Columbo Goes to College” or “Agenda for Murder” than endure “Commodore” if given a choice. The only one of the 45 episodes between 1968-78 that I simply dislike.

        • I could not agree more Tim! Falk was either tired or decided to let the supporting actors have their day in the sun–to say the least it was awkward, not counting persecuting an alcoholic for counterpoint in Commodore.
          My own nomination for “TV Listings Building to Excitement/Then Bad Disappointment” is Forgotten Lady. I detest overriding circumstances like “dreams within dreams” or ” coma lives” . As a kid, I even remember asking my mom if all the Wizard of Oz ended up amounting to was a simple bad dream!
          Would a detective with Columbo’s sense of honor EVER unilaterally have let Janet Leigh’s dementia go unrecorded?!

      • I agree that “College” and “Agenda” are superior within the 1989-2003 episodes and are entertaining. But the second era of “Columbo” episodes are akin to your favorite band reuniting ten years later with one or two new sidemen to produce albums that sound somewhat similar to the earlier records but are middling-at-best efforts.

        Side note: I discovered “Columbo” in 1990 with the syndicated airings of “Most Crucial Game” and “By Dawn’s Early Light” and was forever hooked. My third “Columbo” was the original broadcast in December 1990 of “Columbo Goes to College.”

  22. I agree. It’s ridiculous to think that a man of Cahil’s intelligence would not know that the victim’s injuries would point to being struck by a car, or that the damage to the vehicle would show evidence of this. The big can of heroin on the shelf is unbelievable too.

  23. This episode is ok. Not a favorite but certainly not the worst. The one thing that did bother me, just like in the review, was why did Cahill bother to carry Nicholson in the house and pour the drinks and show signs of a struggle and then leave a match?!?. Made no sense. Leave as little clues as possible. It also bothered me that Cahill would think a druggie or robber would know the chemical sign for heroin that was in the jar in the garage. Cahill wasn’t too bright to think that through.

  24. I agree with this assessment. I find this a difficult episode to endure. It’s just … hokey. I am a fan of most of the actors in this episode, but they were not given a strong story to play. As far as Robbie … he just doesn’t realistically fit in Columbo’s Case Files, in my view.

  25. I couldn’t disagree more. Cahill was brilliant at not using technology that would have pointed directly at the institute. Margret was Neil’s counselor and also knew who had murdered her husband as was shown in the basement file scene, yet as his counselor cannot reveal that. As Waverboy said,. the interplay between Steven Spelberg and Columbo was great fun, same with the mechanic and Dog. Nothing about any technology will age well, it’s the nature of the game. Colombo’s Peugeot is just as dated as the technology here is dated. This review seemed overly harsh and a bit mean spirited to me.

    Hilarious lines:
    After Dog is “removed” from school: “I’m sorry. he demoralizes the other students”
    Columbo plays tape recording “Bad Dog! Bad Dog! – oh this is embarrassing”

    • Columbophile is a great observer JPS, but I must agree that I enjoyed this episode more than many other Columbos. It seemed to bother him that Jessica Walter didn’t display her emotion over losing her husband, but I found that intriguing about her character. I did see tears in her eyes. Kind of neat that people see things differently.

  26. There’s no question that this is a pretty disappointing outing for all the reasons you bring up. The thing that’s always bothered me about this scheme of Cahill’s is how unlikely it seems that you could pass off a hit-and-run as a burglary. I’m certainly no pathologist, but was the LA medical examiner supposed to be telling Columbo “The deceased’s skull is shattered. Practically every bone in his body is broken. His spleen has literally exploded. Sure looks like a junkie with a sock full of quarters alright.”. Quincy that guy was not! And what makes it particularly disappointing is that you’re willing to suspend disbelief when you watch it for the first time because all of the business with odometers and Cahill backing into the car seems like it’s set up to be a big part of the “pop”. It’s pretty much all been dropped by the end of the episode though.

  27. Wow. I guess I tend to be more forgiving of the lesser episodes. No, this wasn’t a top-grade episode, but it was still a lot of fun. Goofy and cheesy? Absolutely, but I love dated ’50s sci-fi films, and I’m a big Robby fan, so I was delighted to see him put in an appearance. And Columbo and the kid have great chemistry. I enjoy this episode on a different level than the “genuinely good” episodes.

  28. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Publish or Perish | The columbophile

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