Columbo’s trip to London for 1972’s Dagger of the Mind is, to put it mildly, something of an acquired taste.
An homage to the British murder mysteries of the early 1900s, Dagger has its admirers. But for many others this is a bewildering, even ludicrous tale of murder and cover-up set against the backdrop of London’s theatrical scene.
I fall firmly into the latter category. Indeed regular readers may be aware that I strongly dislike this episode, branding it as ‘dross’, ‘hammy’, ‘unwatchable’ and ‘tediously drawn out’ in my full-length episode review. Still, even a poor Columbo has redeeming features and even Dagger of the Mind is no exception. So here I put forward my top 5 episode highlights. Read on if you dare!
“Still, even a poor Columbo has redeeming features and even Dagger of the Mind is no exception.”
5. Lily and Nick’s Champagne love-in
Despite putting in performances so wooden that trees felt ashamed by association, Honor Blackman and Richard Baseheart, as murderous theatrical duo Lilian Stanhope and Nicholas Frame, did at least fully commit to the nonsensical story line. And the scene where the happy couple toast their own success in bed over rave newspaper reviews and Champagne is really quite something.
This is self-absorbed, self-congratulatory 70s’ swigging at its best, and the most believable act either of them are involved in throughout the whole episode.
4. A penny on the Governor
Columbo and his opposite number from Scotland Yard, Chief Superintendent Durk, couldn’t be more different. As Durk, Bernard Fox is as stereotypically British as a US TV audience of the day would demand, and his stiff upper lip, clipped delivery and lack of imagination as Durk complement the earthy, open-minded Lieutenant very nicely.
They’re an odd couple alright and predictably don’t see eye-to-eye on the particulars of the case, but their relationship becomes quite endearing – never more so than during a charming exchange at the Houses of Parliament in the latter stages of the episode.
As Big Ben merrily clangs away, a wide-eyed Lieutenant (fresh from gulping a serving of cliche-tastic fish ‘n’ chips) takes much interest. “Boy, that’s terrific. A thing that old, and it’s only a minute slow,” Columbo enthuses, checking the centuries-old timepiece against his cheap wrist watch.
“Really?” responds Durk in that peculiarly deadpan British way of showing disdain/superiority in such a way as to not cause your fellow man any affront at all. “We must put another penny on the Governor.”
So it’s a fun scene for viewers on either side of the Atlantic, and if you haven’t got a clue what Durk means there’s free education available here!
3. The butler didn’t do it
Nick and Lily are for the most part absolute bunglers, but the lynching of Sir Roger’s butler Tanner shows there’s a dark and menacing void at their hearts. After Tanner foists his services on the guilty couple, promising his silence for a regular pay cheque, he gets his just desserts when Nick confronts him at his butler cabin and drags him into the house to be hung from a rafter.
As the piece de resistance, Nick leaves some of Sir Roger’s valuable books under the floorboards to indicate that Tanner had been on the take from his former master, and very likely bumped him off. It would have been enough to convince Durk and co that the butler did indeed do it, but Columbo (of course) doesn’t buy it.
Although the slaying of Tanner happened off-screen, this would have been a brutal and frightening way for the old boy to check out. The episode could have benefited from a bit more of this steeliness and a bit less of the excruciating hamminess.
2. Columbo the tourist
Following straight on from his pick-up at Heathrow Airport, the scenes of Columbo jalloping about old London town are predictably enjoyable. All credit to Peter Falk, who’s portrayal of honest excitement at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snap away at the pomp and ceremony of British life feels entirely authentic.
It’s cute, it’s effective and it raises a smile – plus it’s super-cool to see Columbo hanging at Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge et al.
1. The raincoat gets a workout
Columbo sightseeing is a joy to behold, but is trumped by the scene on the dismal, rainy London streets after the play’s opening night.
After a dozen episodes in sun-soaked Cali where there appears to be no danger of him ever needing it, the raincoat finally earns its keep! And if you look closely it actually seems to be pretty good at repelling the teeming rain, crumpled as it is.
This is not only a fun scene, then, but also one with a decent pay-off as Columbo learns that big-chinned theatre maintenance man Joe has suspiciously lost his umbrella after hanging out with Nick at the pub – and that’s the trigger Columbo needs to really formulate his case against the murderous thespians.
“After a dozen episodes in which there appears to be no danger of him ever needing it, the raincoat finally earns its keep.”
So those are my shining beacons of light amongst the murky swill that pervades much of Dagger of the Mind. Let me know your highlights below! And if you’re keen for a more in-depth analysis of Dagger‘s thrilling highs and devastating lows, there are two options:-
- Read Columbophile’s full-length livid critique here
- Read Rich Weill’s much more positive ‘second opinion’ here
Thanks, as always, for visiting the site. May your day be as bright and bubbly as Lily and Nick’s Champagne love-in (minus the interrupting butler).