Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 3

Episode review: Columbo A Friend in Deed

Columbo A Friend in Deed opening titles

Columbo took a dark twist for its Season 3 finale, with A Friend in Deed taking viewers on a very different type of adventure by pitting the Lieutenant against his own superior officer, Deputy Commissioner Mark Halperin.

With a cast boasting Richard Kiley, and Peter Falk’s great mate Ben Gazzara in the director’s chair, the omens looked good for a rip-roaring curtain-closer to a magnificent season of event television. But is A Friend in Deed a shining jewel in the Columbo crown, or just too dark for its own good? Let’s turn back the clocks to 5th May 1974 and find out…

Columbo A Friend in Deed cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Deputy Commissioner Mark Halperin: Richard Kiley
Hugh Caldwell: Michael McGuire
Margaret Halperin: Rosemary Murphy
Artie Jessup: Val Avery
Lieutenant Duffy: John Finnegan
Wexler the Jeweller: Eric Christmas
Jeweller’s assistant: Arlene Martell
Directed by: Ben Gazzarra
Written by: Peter S. Fischer
Score by: Dick De Benedictis & Billy Goldenberg

Episode synopsis: Columbo A Friend in Deed

Hugh Caldwell makes a phone call to his neighbour’s house. He looks seriously stressed out, and becomes more so when he learns that the man he’s trying to reach – Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Halperin – is out at ‘the club’. As Caldwell wanders back through his house we see why he’s agitated: his wife Janice lies dead on the living room floor.

Slinging on his jacket, Caldwell heads out and is soon bending Halperin’s ear about his woes. He didn’t mean to kill his wife. He’d grabbed her by the throat in a fit of pique and it was all over before he knew it. So what can he do?

Luckily for Hugh, Halperin is a man of action. Everyone knew that Hugh and Janice were having marital troubles, so Hugh mustn’t report the crime himself. Instead Halperin demands Hugh waits at the club and rings his own home from there at 10.30pm. Halperin will answer and tell him what to do. Until then, Hugh must stay in plain sight.

Commissioner Mark Halperin Columbo

Evil beard + jaunty hat = BAD COP!

Cut to Halperin at the Caldwell residence, the rakish angle he’s sporting his hat at leaving the viewers in no doubt that he’s a very bad cop. He jimmies the garden gate lock and patio doors to gain entrance, then sneaks upstairs to get a night gown for Janice and to remove some family jewels.

Hugh rings right on schedule, and the two simulate a homely husband-and-wife chat as a jolly bartender looks on. Before he rings off, Halperin tells his twitchy partner to stay where he is until the police contact him. He then rings off, changes Janice’s clothes and heads for his own home right across the road, hiding the stolen jewels in his garage.

He races upstairs to his own wife, Margaret and implicates her in his scheme, calling her over to the bedroom window after claiming to see a man in dark clothing running from the Caldwell house. When a phone call to the house isn’t answered, Halperin summons his compadres at the LAPD – with one Lieutenant Columbo amongst the investigation team.

It looks like the ‘Bel Air Burglar’ has struck for the fourth time in 2 weeks, this time adding murder to his usual thievery. But Columbo, at least, is making no assumptions. He alone notices that Janice had left a night gown below her pillow, so requests a colleague to search for her fingerprints on the handles of her wardrobe. Little things are bothering him from the get-go.

“It looks for all the world like the ‘Bel Air Burglar’ has struck for the fourth time in 2 weeks.”

At a press conference the next day, Halperin plays into the hysteria surrounding the Bel Air Burglar, promising to double regular patrols and even get helicopter recon on the go to ensure the city’s wealthiest feel adequately protected.

He drops a clanger, though, when he references that his wife was with him when he saw the perp galloping from the Caldwell house. As a journo bellows “Does this mean your wife can identify the killer?”, a seemingly agitated Halperin bustles off stage.

Someone unimpressed with the press conference is the real Bel Air Burglar, Artie Jessup. He’s watching from his favourite slum bar and is far from pleased to have been incriminated in such amateurish work. We soon see why, as a fence comes to meet Jessup but refuses to take his wares because of the ‘heat’ now surrounding him. With even fellow low-lives suspecting him, Jessup is going to have his work cut out making ends.

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Who gardens in an outfit like this?

Columbo’s investigations, meanwhile, have taken him to the Halperin household, where his unexpected arrival causes a gardening Mrs Halperin to tear her jacket on a rose thorn. She does tell the detective that she knew of Janice’s fling with a younger man, but confirms that she did not see the perp making his escape, despite what her husband said in the press conference.

Next stop for the Lieutenant is Caldwell’s home where Hugh is moping. Columbo has discovered that there were no fingerprints on the handles of Janice’s wardrobe. So how come she was in a night gown rather than the red dress Hugh last saw her in?

Hugh has the answer. Janice always kept her night gown under the pillow, so she’d have had no reason to open to wardrobe. This detail that only a husband would know appears to put Hugh in the clear, but Columbo knows the under-pillow night gown wasn’t touched. The lack of fingerprints on the phone trouble him, too. If Janice spoke to her husband at 10.30pm, her prints should be on it.

Things are falling into place for Halperin, though. He’s going to be airborne that night on helicopter patrol so has to ensure his evil scheme comes to fruition. Back at home he encounters a coy Margaret in the bath. She asks him to leave, but he coos some sweet nothings at her to keep her keen. “Have I told you recently darling that our marriage has been a constant joy to me?” he says before gripping her neck and pushing her under the water to commit the quickest death-by-drowning ever seen on TV.

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“No, I love you more…!”

It’s a shocking crime, but if the viewer thinks it was done in the heat of the moment we’re soon proved wrong. Halperin heads to the funeral parlour to see Hugh (and pay last respects to Janice). The simpering Hugh is full of thanks to Halperin for helping him clear up this little mess. “If there’s anything I can ever do for you…” he offers. “There is my friend… tonight,” is Halperin’s ashen-faced response.

He reveals all to the bewildered Hugh. Halperin just drowned his wife and wants to set it up so the world thinks the Bel Air Burglar did it. If Hugh doesn’t help, then Halperin will personally see to it that he goes down for life. That’s friendship, baby!

The fiendish scheme plays out from the air, as Halperin swoops above the Bel Air roof tops in the police chopper. As he passes over his own home, he claims to notice someone lurking by his wife’s car. The chopper loops around and trains its searchlight on the Halperin homestead – revealing the chilling sight of a man (i.e. Hugh Caldwell) in a stocking mask carrying a limp form in his arms, which he casually lobs into the swimming pool!

As the perp dashes away, Halperin adopts the role of all-action hero, leaping into the pool from the hovering chopper and delivering mouth-to-mouth in a desperate bid to resuscitate dear Margaret – a bid doomed to fail given that she’s been stone dead for hours!

Columbo is called in. He inspects the corpse and is stunned to find that Mrs Halperin is wearing the same torn jacket that she was wearing in the garden earlier. Why is this important? She was due out that evening to pick up an award in recognition of her charitable work. There’s no way she’d have worn a torn jacket to such an important occasion.

“Columbo is increasingly sure that Hugh and Halperin are in on it together but how can he prove it with his own boss breathing down his neck?”

Halperin, meanwhile, appears gripped with rage and sadness. He’s blaming his slip of the tongue at the press conference for Margaret’s death. For his part, Columbo is bewildered why the killer would return to the area so quickly. It’s another thing that doesn’t add up.

The subsequent coroner’s report gives Columbo more reason for suspicion. An autopsy reveals that Margaret has soap in her lungs. She wouldn’t have got that from drowning in the pool, but could have if she was drowned in the bath.

Columbo is increasingly sure that Hugh and Halperin are in on it together but how can he prove it with his own boss breathing down his neck? Halperin is siding with the robbery division’s version of events that the Bel Air Burglar has gone rogue and orders  Columbo to follow up on that angle.

The dutiful Columbo does just that, visiting his opposite number Lieutenant Duffy in robbery. If it weren’t for the murders who would Duffy pin this on, Columbo asks? Easy, says Duffy. Artie Jessup every time. So Columbo sidles off to Jessup’s favourite dive bar to enlist his help.

Jessup is initially skeptical, of course. When Columbo flips the badge, the burly crook goes ape. But in a great example of his every man charm, Columbo defuses the situation and soon has an ally in his fight to take down Halperin and Hugh.

friend-16.jpg

Strange bedfellows? Columbo strikes up an unlikely alliance with Artie Jessup

We soon find out what form of help this is as Hugh reports to Halperin that he’s been approached by Jessup, who is demanding money to keep his mouth shut about Hugh killing Janice. Halperin insists that Hugh finds out what Jessup knows, so dressed conspicuously in a sharp suit and huge 70s shades, Hugh scats off to the rendezvous – looking like the least believable dive bar patron of all time.

Jessup says that unless Hugh pays him $5000 he’ll admit to the first three burglaries, but will deny killing Janice. Jessup will be quite happy to return to jail, where he’s spent most of the last 20 years anyway, but the focus of the investigation will switch firmly to Hugh. Halperin orders a rattled Hugh to play along with the jewel thief’s demands.

Back at police HQ, Halperin finds Columbo looking through the files of his chief suspects – including Jessup. Feigning indifference, Halperin steals a peek at the address in Jessup’s file, then scarpers to take advantage of this new opportunity. Retrieving the stolen jewels form his garage, Halperin (hat all a-jaunty again) pays a visit to a grimy apartment block in one of LA’s less distinguished districts – the address in Jessup’s file. Using a credit card to force the lock, Halperin plants the jewels and beats a hasty retreat.

Halperin 2Cut back to Jessup’s watering hole. Hugh has returned with the cash and Jessup tells him it’ll do nicely as the first down payment. He’ll be in touch about the next one in due course. Then before you can say ‘by heck Hugh, you look out of place here‘, a gaggle of cops dash in and slap the darbies on Jessup.

Halperin, Columbo and Duffy are amongst the officers on scene, and it’s the Commissioner himself who whips out a warrant and tells Jessup they’re off to his apartment in search of evidence. Columbo gives the warrant a once over and tells the Commissioner he’s making a mistake, but Halperin won’t hear a word of it and the entourage troops off to the shabby apartment.

As officers start turning the place upside down, Columbo again tries to convince Halperin he’s making a mistake. But he then turns the screw, and references that he believes Mrs Halperin died in her bath tub, not in the pool. She likely died much earlier than initially though, too – around the time Halperin himself went home for supper that same day. “Commisioner, I believe you killed your wife, and I believe you either killed Janice Caldwell or you’re covering up for it,” he concludes.

Turning slowly to face him, Halperin’s response is his last play at staying in charge. “You just lost your badge, my friend,” he calmly retorts.

There’s a commotion behind the two men. Looks like some of Janice Caldwell’s missing jewels have been found! It’s the proof Halperin needs to have Jessup locked up. Or is it? Jessup snorts when told that the stolen jewels have been found in his apartment, and rocks the Commissioner when he snaps back: “Hey man, I don’t even live here!

In the shocked silence that follows, it’s Columbo who speaks up. “That’s true, sir, I can attest to that. He doesn’t live here, I live here.”

Friend 9
“These are my pajamas. My shirts. My underwear. My photo of a man craning his neck strangely at a dog…”

Columbo, you see, had signed the lease on the place just that morning. He slipped the address into Jessup’s file. And who took a glimpse at that file? “Only one person besides myself knew this address,” Columbo says to his superior officer. “That was you, sir.”

Comprehensively outmanoeuvred, Halperin can only offer a silent nod of resignation as credits roll…

A Friend in Deed‘s best moment: good cop/bad cop?

Friend 17

The episode’s greatest triumph is the portrayal of central antagonist, Deputy  Commissioner Mark Halperin. When we first meet Halperin he’s cavorting with a scarlet-clad woman and gambling in a vice den. There’s something of the devil in his looks and actions and note the clever use of mirrors, suggestive of a man with dual identities and a shadowy alter ego.

Given that we know Columbo represents all that is good about policing, this magnificent introduction sets the stall out early that Commissioner Halperin is a man we can neither like nor trust. And so it proves in riveting fashion.

My opinion on A Friend in Deed

A dark and brooding tale of police corruption, cover-up and murder, A Friend In Deed is an episode apart in many ways – and is an entirely successful addition to the series.

I’ve often said that Columbo is at its best when it’s able to play on Falk’s natural warmth and comic timing to ally gripping mysteries with plenty of laughs. A Friend in Deed turns that ideology on its head, delivering a gritty, almost entirely humour-free police drama that the viewer cannot take their eyes off.

Friend 19

Devil incarnate: Mark Halperin is one of the series’ biggest baddies

Richard Kiley’s portrayal of our chief antagonist is central to the success of the episode. His Commissioner Halperin is absolutely unscrupulous, selling out his supposed friend, his ideals and the badge he’s sworn to protect in order to secure his wife’s millions. We’ve not seen such single-minded villainy since Leonard Nimoy’s icy Dr Mayfield in A Stitch in Crime. Halperin plays for high stakes and is a very dangerous enemy – ingredients that make his ultimate downfall in one of the series’ best ever gotcha moments extra satisfying.

Halperin is an interesting study. It’s as if he’s become bored of being a good guy, so no longer bothers to try. He clearly doesn’t give a fig for anything other than his wife’s riches and  scorns her charitable, philanthropic interests, at one point saying: “Darling, if you’re embarrassed by all your millions, why don’t you just sign them over to me? They wouldn’t embarrass me in the least.”

We can only wonder how long Halperin had been planning to do away with poor, unloved Margaret. Evidently some time given his wholehearted embrace of Hugh’s crisis moment and how swiftly he turned it to his advantage. He deserves credit for his speed of thought, if nothing else, in turning a neighbour’s misfortune into his own opportunity to trouser a $4.5 million fortune.

“Is it conceivable that a senior officer would be unaware of Columbo’s amazing track record?”

That said, despite being a smart operator and quick thinker, there must be some question marks over Halperin’s judgement. For one thing, is it conceivable that a senior officer would be unaware of Columbo’s amazing track record? After all, the Lieutenant was described as ‘fast becoming a legend in the department‘ only a year earlier. There are plenty of bungling homicide officers Halperin could have called in to investigate instead to maximise his chances of success. Selecting Columbo smacks of either indifference or uber-confidence.

Does he underestimate Columbo like so many others have done in the past? If so, that’s a desperately poor play. Maybe his arrogance is such that he didn’t consider anyone on the force his mental equal. He certainly seems to hold the LAPD in low esteem on the whole and was not expecting the thorough investigation and inquisitive mind Columbo brought to proceedings. Maybe he neglected to read up on the Hayward Case?

One might also question Halperin’s choice of partner in crime. Hugh is far too lily-livered to rely on. He’s the weak link and Halperin must have known it. Maybe his next step would have been to kill Hugh and make it look like a suicide? Given Halperin’s lack of scruples I wouldn’t be surprised, but alas we’ll never know. Certainly hapless Hugh will turn on Halperin to save his own skin. Oh to be a fly on the wall at their future courtroom encounter!

Friend 10

Halperin and Caldwell: Master and apprentice

Kiley isn’t the only example of perfect casting. Step forward Val Avery as Artie Jessup. Avery made a living playing petty thugs on the small and large screen and he’s really wonderful in this, giving us menace, combustibility and a ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude that grounds the character in a grubby reality.

And that reality is a side of Columbo we seldom see. We’re so used to seeing the Lieutenant in high society circles that it’s almost more difficult to picture him mixing with the city’s underbelly – despite his scruffy appearance. But that’s what we get in A Friend in Deed, and it doesn’t hurt the episode one bit. In fact it’s fascinating to see how Columbo interacts with Jessup and the ease in which he wins the con’s trust and, ultimately, his complaisance.

Of all episodes, this is probably the one where we see the ‘real’ Lieutenant the most, as he eschews his veneer of bumbling and confusion to cut to the chase, showing a strength of character and a grittier aspect of his personality that is usually kept hidden. His take down of Halperin requires guts and self-assurance in equal measure, but he doesn’t blink when going eye-to-eye against his superior.

Columbo Friend in Deed

No Commissioner, you just lost YOUR badge, my friend…

This thrilling confrontation helps keep the viewer transfixed for nigh on 100 minutes of spellbinding action. Regular readers will know that the thorny subject of Columbo episode running times is a theme I return to time and again. As a rule, I believe longer episodes (95+ minutes without ads) are inferior to the shorter, 75-minute episodes, due to merciless padding of scenes that can take the edge off an otherwise cracking yarn.

A Friend in Deed bucks that trend handsomely becoming the first episode since Ransom for a Dead Man that really justifies a longer running time. Its deep, complex plot just couldn’t be shoehorned into 75 minutes. My episode summary above actually misses out a number of salient plot points simply to keep it to a readable length.

“There was a lot of money spent on this episode, and it was money well spent.”

All credit, then, to director Ben Gazzara and writer Peter S. Fischer, who didn’t waste a minute of screen time. Gazzara in particular impresses because, being one of Falk’s best friends, it would have been easy to lapse into indulgence and lose the sharp edge of the drama. That never threatens to occur here. That he returned to direct Troubled Waters a year later – an episode full of fun, and a polar opposite to this – speaks volumes about his abilities.

Fischer, meanwhile, was establishing himself as the Columbo writer of the day. He was introduced to the series in the similarly excellent (and complex) Publish or Perish earlier in the season, and was swiftly into his stride. I nominally prefer Publish, but Fischer really aced the ending here in a way that eluded him in his previous outing.

Friend 7
Action Man Halperin preparing to leap from a moving helicopter

I also enjoy that A Friend in Deed feels like a big deal. There’s a lot of location shooting and, wonder of wonders, some actual action sequences! Columbo‘s such a talkie show that it rarely relies on action set pieces, but here we have two to write home about in a single episode: the exciting police bust at Jessup’s bar and Halperin’s glorious ‘man-leaps-from-helicopter-into-swimming-pool’ stunt. There was a lot of money spent on this episode, and it was money well spent.

So are there any weaknesses? None to speak of, other than the aforementioned and hard-to-explain lapses in Halperin’s judgement. Some might find it a shade too dark to easily stomach, and there’s none of the levity that Falk is usually able to bring to proceedings. What humour there is is largely restricted to the Lieutenant’s trials and tribulations with his car, which is more unreliable than ever. That aside, it’s all played with a very straight face. This is what Columbo would be if it was a gritty police drama. And it works.

If every episode was as dark and humourless as this it’s unlikely that Columbo would have been such an enduringly popular show. But as a one-off, A Friend in Deed has great impact and easily rates as one of the series’ stand-out adventures.

Friend 2
What a way to finish Season 3!

Did you know?

Un Amico Da Salvare posterA Friend in Deed was one of a series of Columbo episodes (along with Ransom for a Dead Man, Etude in Black and Dagger of the Mind) to be released theatrically in Italy in the late 1970s.

Un Amico Da Salvare opened in Italian cinemas on 12th December 1978 and was accompanied by the pictured, ultra-cool movie poster. The chessboard design means fans often mistake it for an Italian version of The Most Dangerous Match.

Various guises of the poster can be found relatively easily on eBay at not too high a price, so if there’s a gap on your living room wall, why not have a look?

How I rate ’em

With virtually no weaknesses, A Friend in Deed is brilliant television and rightly takes its place in the top echelons of the leaderboard, with very little to separate it from the episodes I currently rank above it.

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. A Friend in Deed
  6. Death Lends a Hand
  7. A Stitch in Crime
  8. Double Exposure
  9. Lady in Waiting
  10. Any Old Port in a Storm
  11. Prescription: Murder
  12. Swan Song
  13. The Most Crucial Game
  14. Etude in Black
  15. Candidate for Crime
  16. Greenhouse Jungle
  17. Requiem for a Falling Star
  18. Blueprint for Murder
  19. Ransom for a Dead Man
  20. Dead Weight
  21. The Most Dangerous Match
  22. Lovely but Lethal
  23. Short Fuse
  24. Mind Over Mayhem
  25. Dagger of the Mind

How do you rate this dark departure from the Columbo norm? I’d love to know, so leave your comments below. And if you heart A Friend in Deed above all others, do consider voting for it in the Columbo fans’ favourite episode poll.

That’s a wrap for Season 3, so the next review will be Season 4 curtain-raiser An Exercise in Fatality, starring the beefcake-tastic Robert Conrad. See you there…

Watch A Friend in Deed in full on the Columbo YouTube channel here!


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Columbo’s rib-tickling cameo in 1984 blockbuster Tootsie

67 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo A Friend in Deed

  1. Pingback: Season 4: have we reached ‘peak Columbo’? | The Columbophile

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  3. I really enjoyed your review of one my favourite episodes!! I’ve been a huge Columbo fan for many, many years and I’m so glad that I found your website recently. You have such a great writing style – Keep up the good work!!

  4. Pingback: Columbo full episode: A Friend in Deed | The Columbophile

  5. Hi, I’ve just understood WHY the Villain here fetched (or not-countered) Columbo being the investigator here. Here my leads: in the very next episode Columbo mentions he has a new boss, quite understandable since his last one just got compromised in FiD; and in the very first (pilot) episode Columbo praises his by-the-time boss for wits, “he is very inteligent man, my superior”, strictly because he countered the previous decision (influenced by the murderer’s unaware friend) of shifting Columbo off the case for being too smart cop and thus threat. So, if the Columbo’s boss was the same since 1st season to the end of the 3th, he was well aware that trying to redirect Columbo seems suspicious – because he himself had thought it suspicious at another occasion.
    As for differences between Villain’s police call and later chat with Columbo, it might be as soon as police reported him the house of his friend is a scene of murder, he ordered to send the best man. It’s understandable, given circumstances; if he appointed some inapt investigator, it would seem awquard. Like, he didn’t know their own man or just didn’t care about his friend/murder at his (!) home street? He had tight navigation space, I think he counted on the how-it-seems most, and was ready to use his hight ranks position to navigate Columbo into finding a man to frame, and if Columbo would succumb, it would be double-proof alibi: Columbo’s the best, never lost a case, so if he says he found the man, it would be concrete solid – sth. no other detective could possibly offer to the corrupted chief cop.
    I guess the guy who said the ‘in army you were tought bravery but not common sense’ quote is fair about Villains temperament. And it’s possible he really thought Columbo would break or try and protect him – for sake of long-know, work-dependence, police-scandal or whatever.
    Here. I wonder if I think the right direction.

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  7. another problem I have with this episode is the drowning in the bath tub was far too quick as mentioned and also when how could Halpern be sure she would be in the bathtub or maybe it wasn’t a pre meditated murder , again like I say this is a good episode but its not in my all time favourites, I prefer prescription murder with DR Fleming killing his wife along with his accomplice where its carefully planned out and pre meditated, I also prefer identity crisis playback and make me a perfect murder and also how to dial a murder.

    • She was preparing for an important meeting. I guess she wanted to be clean and relaxed. It might have been her habit. I think he *did* planned because at that day before (if I recollect right) he instructed the other murderer what he should do disguised as a burgler later on. So at the point of giving instructions he had a plan of drowning his wife, but look it as if it happen in a pool. I doubt his friend would be efficiently creative by himself… There’s possibility our Bad guy made a call to his friend after killing the wife in her bath, but I don’t think he would risk it. Or maybe he did call? Military courage and all.

  8. Another great episode. I should get used to this. Now I wonder if during the whole Friend in Deed was there Mrs Columbo mentioned? I can’t quite recall. And it’s striking this is just a murder case when Lieutenant could actually murder and frame his boss. Because only two of them had knew the adress and where to plant stolen jewels. I’d love to compare car’s drive count from here and from a few episodes aback. I almost recall it has been named somewhere, sometime. Maybe in Green Jungle?

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  10. I m not a massive fan of this episode as I think you need a little bit of humour, and surely the commissioner would not have assigned columbo to the case and they surely would have know about each other,

  11. This is easily my favourite Columbo episode of all. First of all the plot is not set in motion by a fiendish ‘perfect murder’ plot (setting a bomb in a cigar box, of example), but by what is basically a tragic accident, and the springing of the trap against the villain is a classic.

    Surely, if Hugh Caldwell had only told the truth he would have faced an unlawful killing or manslaughter charge (is that “Second Degree murder” in the US?). Some find his appearance in the dive bar a bit hard to take; for me, it’s the way he establishes his alibi: “That was my wife. Just spoke to my wife – on the phone. She’s fine, going to bed. That was my wife… on the phone… just then.” OK, I exaggerate, but only a little.

    Maybe it is hard to believe Halperin would ask to have Columbo on the case, but in his very first appearance his backgammon opponent says: “The army may have taught you boldness, Mark, but I’m not sure about your judgement.” So Halperin is known to be reckless, but is arrogant enough to think it will pay off (which it does – at backgammon). He may *know* Columbo’s reputation, but he doesn’t *respect* it, and is genuinely surprised at the details Columbo picks up on (such as the fingerprint-free phone) which he had never even thought of.

    By the way, you say there’s no humour here. You forget Columbo asking to buy a new watchstrap at Van Cleef and Arpels. When he’s quoted $25 he says he doesn’t want the watch, just the strap. The reaction of sales assistant Arlene Martel (see also “Greenhouse Jungle”) to Columbo’s ‘seven jewel’ watch is a lovely study of tact trying deperately to overcome contempt.

    • Exactly, and I find a lot of humour also at the second-hand car sale garage, and even in the relationship between Columbo and Jessup: “where did you find it, in a box of Cracker Jacks?”

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  14. I suspect that Halperin appointed Columbo because it would have looked suspicious if he hadn’t. He knows who the best detective on the force is and if he were innocent he would definitely appoint the best and then insist on a thorough investigation. So he has to do that or he looks guilty. Looking guilty means trial by public opinion.

    And I don’t think he’s worried about being caught so much as being blackmailed. A less scrupulous detective than Columbo could use the investigation to get all kinds of dirt on Halperin even if they can’t prove he broke any laws. That dirt in the hands of the right tabloid could make his life hell.

    He’s not worried about getting caught because he assumes that he can spike any investigation into him. That’s why Columbo doesn’t really admit that there is an investigation until it’s already too late to stop it.

    • Nicely reasoned analysis. Can we assume that Duffy is aware of Columbo’s suspicion and his discovery of the jewels under the mattress is simply to facilitate Halperin’s downfall?

  15. What would be the rationale behind Halperin’s telling Caldwell to pick up Margaret’s body and throw it into the pool? The autopsy should have revealed that she died hours earlier, yet somehow it didn’t come up in conversation that she died much earlier than nighttime in the pool.

    • I guess it was a show, simmilar to way he ‘tried to’ rescue his wife from the pool. It was so to build up his reputation (devoted cop) and play a tragic role (devoted husband). It was intense, aiming to turn every possible suspicions away.
      Personally I found it absurd that the ‘fake murderer’ was carrying the woman all way long to the pool in light of flashes. If I were him, I’d drop the body and flee away. Another proof (well, lead at least) that he can’t be ordinary burglar. Too much showing off! That’s the weakness of Boss’s plan.

  16. Love this episode. One of the best take-downs. Gazzara’s hand-held camera work at the crime scene gave Columbo’s musings a documentary-like aspect. And Artie– what can ya say. Great job by Val Avery.

    When Kiley’s in the club, he screws up and calls his friend by the name of the actor playing him.

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

  18. There’s much debate here about the wisdom of letting Columbo work on this case. Mark Halperin had great confidence that he would get away with murder. And with good reason. Keep in mind that Halperin was Deputy Commissioner. That carries a lot of weight and political power in the LAPD. When you add to this the fact that there is a strong bias within the LAPD against ever even considering that one of their own could be responsible for the commission of a crime, Halperin’s hubris and confidence are readily understandable.

    In a post below, I have previously referred to the 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen by a female LAPD police officer that went unsolved for 23 years because of the LAPD’s internal politics, which blocked any meaningful inquiries, despite red flag clues at the crime scene that any detective with a fraction of Columbo’s abilities would have picked up on. Imagine now if, on top of that, the police murderer was high up in the police political hierarchy! Any Columbo in such a situation would have been crushed by the powers that be, as they say.

    The LAPD is rife with corruption. And in the real world, the Deputy Commissioner could almost certainly get away with committing murder by rigging the investigation of the case as necessary to clear any trails leading to him. We should not forget that the Columbos in the real world are often prevented from doing their jobs. If there is any story hole to this episode, it’s not that Halperin would have left Columbo on the job. It’s that Columbo actually survived long enough to do his own job.

    • Columbo seems to have been clever enough to investigate Halpernin without him realizing it, because by the time Halpernin did know it was too late. Otherwise I imagine he’d have arranged for Columbo to “die in the line of duty”.

  19. “Does he underestimate Columbo like so many others have done in the past?”

    Maybe he does not underestimate Columbo’s intelligence, as others have. He does appear to underestimate Columbo’s independence. Think about it: this murder isn’t a one-off lapse. From the start of the episode he is depicted as a shady character and seems to have been corrupt for quite some time. Imagine what he has got away with up to now, as a senior police officer. He has counted on the deference of underlings
    and the solidarity that exists among police officers to shield him from too much scrutiny. No doubt Halpernin thought he could control the investigation- he certainly tried. What he didn’t count on was that Columbo’s determination to get to the bottom of things cannot be deterred by the “blue wall of silence’ or the orders of superiors.

  20. its never actually stated in this episode that halperin appointedv columbo is it just assumption that he did by all these other reviews.

  21. you said this was a flawless episode but there is a huge one . when halpin annd the police go into the bar to arrest artie jessup the comissioner says to a fellow officer , take him down town which should mean to a police station to be arrested we also see him being escorted out of the bar , so how then does he appear back at what is supposed to be his apartment without any handcuffs on in the end scene how in the name of christ can that not be considered a flaw. please could you clear this up mr columbophile .

  22. Lovely review! This episode was very strong and definitely a very successful experiment of trying something a little different with the format and in this case that’s the tone being a bit grittier and more stakes because of this being Columbo’s boss. Technically Ransom for a dead man isn’t a pilot that and Prescription: Murder were basically stand a lone tv movies but we now consider them as pilots because they were starting points

  23. “Some might find it a shade too dark to easily stomach” – that’s exactly my case. I think this is a top-quality episode, but I admire rather than adore it – just like “Publish or Perish”. Still, I agree that it’s an excellent addition to the series because it proves that Columbo is such a versatile show – it can be funny or dark, peaceful or fast-paced, a talk show or action-packed stuff etc.
    Halperin easily ranks high on my list of most horrible Columbo killers – maybe even right after Dr. Mayfield. As a woman, I’m additionally touched by the fact that two wives were killed by their husbands, and Margaret’s death was absolutely shocking to me. I watched this episode at least half a year ago, but I still remember that scene so well.
    Thanks for the excellent review!

  24. “A Friend In Deed” is a great episode! Definitely top 5 for me, starting with a great title. I think it works because the Deputy Commissioner comes across as such a slimy guy. Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous that he asks for Columbo, but that’s a minor glitch. One thing I like about this episode is that the humor is kept to minimum. And that gotcha when Columbo reveals he rented the apartment… Wow! That was one I didn’t see coming, which is fairly rare.
    Thanks for the review, keep ’em coming. I’m way ahead of you. 😉

  25. Good review.
    Regarding Halperin, people at that level can be arrogant, thinking that any plan they have is perfect. IMO, he thought he could control the investigation and Columbo. The thing is, they didn’t show him asking for Columbo, if you watch the scene, he says “I just saw a strange man running from a house on Fairfax drive.I want you to dispatch a unit over there immediately, will you?” then gives him the address. The responding officers would have called the homicide division and the detective on duty would have been called.

    IMO, Columbo asking him that later is a script error that wasn’t caught. and/or was padding, as that whole scene with Columbo and Halperin after the pool is pointless. When watching it again,skip from where Columbo leaves the pool after the awards guy says “the line was always busy, so I came over” and Columbo says “OK take his name and let him go” and walks out of the shot and FF to Columbo purposefully walking into the bathroom to check the tub. It completely stream lines the episode. The scene is padding and it alters the story. I edited out that scene on my hard drive version and it makes a huge difference.

    Constructive critique, you completely overlooked the Mr. Wexler and Charlie Shoop sequences. Key clue gathering, and confirmation that she couldn’t have answered the phone at 10:30. He again walks very purposefully, this time to his car after Shoop says there was no answer at Caldwell’s house.

    Love the site.

    • Thanks for that, and you may well be right about script/error padding. I did originally include info on the Shoup/Janice triste and the sideshow about the glass jewellery but the summary was running so long I took it all out in order to ensure the review took less time to read than the episode takes to watch!

        • Even if Halperin became uncomfortable with Columbo continuing to investigate and had him removed, Columbo would have found a way for the order to be circumvented. In Prescription Murder, he got himself put back on the case, when he got very suspicious that he was taken off of it.

  26. one of the best episodes’ because it seemed all the time like columbo knew Halpern did it but couldn’t nail him it seemed he relied on Jessop for the final scene it has everything but as all the reviews go it seems that it was commissioner halpins job to assign columbo to the case and they must have been known to each other before the case which for me spoils it but it is never actually stated in it ,cant we just assume columbo float in a back door am sure LA is a big enough place that they wouldn’t have worked in the same building . I love this episode but I still prefer Negative reaction , try and catch me ,the bye bye sky high murder , by dawns early light ,publish or perish, and troubled waters al though u haven’t reviewed these yet except publish or perish. but u have placed it lower.

  27. Loved this episode. Val Avery is a hoot as the grumpy small time crook. Of course, I actually prefer the longer episodes, but your review was good. Halperin definitely showed arrogance in choosing Columbo to investigate, but all Columbo villians
    are like that and that is their downfall. I think the humour comes with Val Avery, and Columbo in the bathtub at Halperin’s house. John Finnegan says do you think they’re hiding in there, and what did Columbo do at the policeman’s function that he hoped Halperin’s wife would have forgot.

  28. A great review of a favourite of mine, certainly in my top 5 – even with the ‘Quid Quo Pro’ gaff.

    One part I’ve always loved is when Caldwell volunteers the key information that his wife kept her nightdress under her pillow, and in doing so throws Columbo off his assumption that Caldwell is his sole target – that this is going to be a routine Columbo case, and solving it is merely a matter of trapping Caldwell in this lie. There’s a lovely piece of reaction acting by PF when Caldwell tells him about the nightdress. He’s set back on his heels momentarily, but the possibility of there being a much more devious plan afoot starts to dawn on him very quickly, and we the viewer (obviously aware of the true plan) get to enjoy an even-more-delightful ‘Columbo catches up with what we already know’ experience.

    Thanks for writing the article, and I only hope you’re as effusive about the Robert Conrad episode, which is another in my top 5. I’ll don my Bud Castle tartan trousers especially for the reading.

  29. “so, dressed conspicuously in a sharp suit and huge 70s shades, Hugh scats off to the rendezvous – looking like the least believable dive bar patron of all time.” I laughed at this line because I think the EXACT same thing every time I watch this episode. Once again, a very thorough and thoughtful review! Thanks–keep ’em coming! 🙂

  30. I’m okay with Halperin’s confidence, since his plan is built around Columbo’s detective skills working *first*.

    By which I mean: let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that there exist criminals who (a) don’t have an alibi for either murder and who (b) have, in fact, recently stolen stuff fairly nearby.

    If you can order Columbo to find a criminal who fits that profile, then you can figure that Columbo will find exactly such a criminal. And so you don’t, as various amateurs on the show do, frame someone *before* Columbo arrives; you boss Columbo around, and *after* he’s done what he’s been told you frame a suspect who lacks an alibi and has stolen other stuff from other crime scenes.

    (Sure, the plan still fails; but it’s a different kind of failure than saying “well, this already looks good to me, so now I’ll call in Columbo and see if he can spot a flaw.” It’s saying “Columbo himself will find someone who looks guilty and can’t prove he’s innocent, and then I’ll just go with that.”)

    • I see the point. It’s try of use Columbo’s abilities against him. I might have worked, but remember, the murderer here was very persistant that ‘we are looking for a homicidal burgler’ which was startling and… must bring second thoughts. A key murderer-mistake in many Columbo episodes is that they try and imply a chaos rules the world. That is: ‘people do strange irrational things under the stress pressure’, or: ‘no, Columbo, it can’t be like you cleverly saw it through, let’s ignore your opinion’. So the Boss here tried quite good, but he actually had a stern opinion who’s to frame later on, and with his own stuborness on the subject he spoiled such a perfect plan of Columbo’s looking the scapegoat for him.
      Columbo the moment he’s spoken to that everyone makes mistakes… lovely.

  31. A great episode, has anyone ever used “my friend” as menacingly as Commissioner Halperin? IMO it makes the episode’s title the most fitting in the canon.
    Also, I love the gem of a mini-scene when the early investigator talks to the ex-con. The always-great Albert Popwell plays it with the perfect wrong-place, wrong-time apprehension, his exchange with the investigator providing the only comic relief in the episode.

  32. Another enjoyable review, and one in which you’ve illuminated a detail which I had overlooked. In this case it was the introduction to Artie Jessup in the dive bar. I had always taken his raspberry toward Halperin when he was on TV to be a general showing of contempt for law enforcement, but you’re no doubt correct that it was the suggestion that Jessup had committed the sloppy Caldwell crimes.
    For me “A Friend in Deed” is in rarefied Columbo air along with the three Jack Cassidy episodes, the three Robert Culp episodes, “Double Shock” and “Suitable for Framing.” And while it is grim, there are moments of humor: the opening when Columbo has dropped his cigar, the caustic interplay between Artie and his girlfriend, and Columbo in the jewelry store. There’s even inadvertently funny elements that make me smile with every viewing: the quintessential 1970’s scumbaggery personified by the guy who tells Artie that he can’t fence Artie’s goods, and the old man who I believe wandered into the background of the scene when Hugh Caldwell meets Columbo and is redirected by a crew member not in frame. It comes around the point when Hugh is telling Columbo about the nightgown. Deep in the background over Hugh’s shoulder we see an elderly man walking on the sidewalk across the street. He then stops abruptly, turns around and walks in the direction from which he came as if he was shooed away by someone on the crew.

  33. Another splendid review of one of my favorite Columbo episodes, capturing its strengths, including a complex storyline, exceptionally well-drawn characters, excellent acting, and superb direction.

    And apart from Richard Kiley’s terrific performance in a role running completely counter to his legendary performances in Broadway musicals, who can forget Val Avery’s great performance as Artie Jessup? Val Avery was so good in this role that it’s a shame that Columbo’s writers didn’t find a way to bring him back in future episodes.

    And this brings me to an unwritten “law” of Columbo throughout most of the seasons: each episode must be independent of the others and stand alone. Thus, even though Columbo had an amazing track record of solving murder cases involving high-profile or prominent and successful individuals, and had the most unique style of dress of any detective in town, nobody in Los Angeles seemed to have a clue who he was. Consequently, it’s as though newspapers, magazines, television, and the radio had never mentioned or featured this remarkable detective. This suspension of reality, apparently, was necessary to avoid unnecessary script complications, to set the stage for the murderers to underestimate Columbo, and also to facilitate the signature humor of the series where Columbo interacts with numerous individuals who do not know anything of his track record.

    This might partially explain why Halperin did not try to get Columbo off the case from the start. But in this particular episode, there’s a slight break from the unwritten “law” because there’s some exposition about Columbo “fast becoming a legend in the department.” That said, Halperin’s confidence and arrogance comes not from exceptional intelligence and a track record of his own, but rather, from the political power of his position as Deputy Commissioner. And, we should not forget that in writer Peter Fischer’s introduction of the character to the story, he is seen gambling at backgammon and enjoying the night life, not on the job as a Deputy Commissioner or anything remotely connected to police work.

    One last thing I’d like to point out about “A Friend in Deed.” The episode was a bold one for television in that the murderer was a member of LA’s own Police Department, and positioned near the top! However, this was not an entirely new concept in the film world, and the idea of making the Deputy Commissioner a murderer was likely inspired by the hit movie “Magnum Force,” in theaters about a year earlier, staring Clint Eastwood in his iconic “Dirty” Harry Callahan role, and co-starring Hal Holbrook, as Callahan’s superior, Lieutenant Neil Briggs.

    Unfortunately, in the real world, detectives with such integrity, dedication, and skills as Columbo are extremely rare. I’ve seen many a real murder case in which the murder was committed by a member of law enforcement but the crime goes unsolved for many, many years because of an apparently natural law enforcement bias against investigating their own. The 2009 murder of Sherri Rasmussen, for example, went unsolved for 23 years because the Los Angeles police wanted to assume that it was a burglary turned violent, and they ignored evidence that a detective with even 1/10 of Columbo’s abilities would have immediately picked up on. For an excellent examination of this case, see Mark Bowden’s article in Vanity Fair at this link:
    https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/07/lapd-lazurus-murder-mystery-killer

    • Val Avery was also in Identity Crisis, after this episode. His two prior appearances were Dead Weight and The Most Crucial Game.

      • I appreciate that you point out that Val Avery has appeared in other Columbo episodes, but I meant that I would have liked to have seen this particular character Artie Jessup reappear in other episodes. Similarly, I would have liked to have seen Bob Dishy in more than two episodes as Sergeant Wilson. Although many of the same actors reappeared over the years, there’s actually very little character carryover in the series. This lack of character continuity in the series for the most part is just more evidence of the unwritten “law” of Columbo that I wrote about above, where each episode must largely be independent of the others and stand alone.

  34. A contender for the number one spot for sure – an almost flawless episode apart from the fact that no one thought it a bit suspicious Halperin suddenly left ‘the club’ soon after an obviously agitated Caldwell arrived.

  35. Another excellent and accurate review. To answer the question as to why Columbo was on the case, it may not have been Halperin’s decision at all. Columbo very well could have been assigned by the Captain of detectives for that precinct and Halerpin had no say in the matter. Someone at Halerpin’s level likely wouldn’t be involved in decisions made by the precinct commander and wouldn’t have known Columbo was assigned until he showed up at the crime scene. However, once assigned he surely would have known Columbo’s reputation.

    Along with everything else you mentioned, because Columbo is investigating someone he knows professionally he couldn’t put on The Act. In this case anyway, Columbo was going to have use a different tact to solve the case, and seeing him just be the consummate professional that he is without making up relatives or his other usual tricks was fascinating to me.

    I rank this one right up there as you do.

    • As I recall, Columbo specifically notes that Halperin asked for him to be put on the case. Halperin was well aware of Columbo’s reputation, but thought he could withstand him. At one point, Halperin tells Columbo, “No one can be right all the time.” But Columbo was right again.

    • The script states that Halperin specifically asked for Columbo to be assigned to the case, so it’s extra hard to understand his poor judgment. If it hadn’t been referenced explicitly I’d have accepted it on the terms you outlined above. I wonder why they made that decision?

      • The only explanation I can give is that it was included to illustrate Halperin’s arrogance & hubris. With that said, I do agree logically there is no reason for Halperin to have asked for Columbo other than for our amusement.

      • If he in fact asked for Columbo I stand corrected.

        The only explanation is that Halperin thought he could outsmart any detective on the force, even Columbo. Perhaps in Halperin’s mind if you’re going to outwit a detective, might as well be the best.

      • Maybe it’s another situation where to NOT have asked for Columbo would have immediately aroused suspicion. You’ve got a burglar who’s already hit a number of homes in the area now becoming the murderer of the wife of Halperin’s friend – this is a high profile case, and if Halperin had said that the top man in the department wasn’t needed…Columbo would have smelled a rat straight away. I think Haplerin had to assign Columbo because to not do so would have raised so many questions.

  36. If I had been Columbo’s superior, I would have known what kind of a computer brain this lieutenant has, and that he has solved 100% of all his cases in style, and if I had seen him working on the Janice Caldwell murder, I would never have dared to kill my wife the next day.

  37. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate this episode and it’s fast becoming a favorite. One thing I’ve ALWAYS said was the same thing mentioned in the review…. Why would Halperin call in columbo knowing, or should know, how successful he’s been in solving murders. It’s always bothered me. I also liked when columbo was also aware of the fact that Halperin called in a homocide detective when Halperin should have had no idea that there was a murder committed if he thought it was just a burglary. How did he know to call in a homocide detective?? Columbo knows…

    • Good point. There are a few episodes where this point has me scratching my head. Remember Dabney Coleman (“are you the criminal lawyer who’s never lost a case”) in Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star? Surely he would have heard of, if not encountered Columbo.
      Maybe it is arrogance on Halperin’s part but this is still a great episode.

      • It’s certainly a very minor beef. I prefer to think of it that Halperin was so confident that he assigned LAPD’s finest to emphasise how thorough the police investigation would be. BAD MOVE!

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