BUT.....there are a few faults, viz:
* Changing the scene from LA to London and using an almost entirely British cast is fine, so why then use an American actor(Richard Basehart) for one of the main roles and moreover playing an Englishman? He is clearly uncomfortable in the part and his accent, while not as bizarre as Dick van Dyke's, is still awful.Was it to give the episode some USAppeal?
* Possibly the murder of Tanner, which I have never seen, does feature in some versions but I am left perplexed as to how Nicholas managed to hang him in a way that looked like suicide. Killing him first, even strangling him with the rope and then doing so, would be altogether too easy for the police to detect. I can't imagine that he said something like "Would you mind standing on this chair with a rope round your neck, old boy. Nothing to worry about!". So how......?
* You always expect errors when American films are set in England (usually geographical - see '23 Paces to Baker Street' and 'Knock on Wood' for some real howlers) and others have covered some of them here. However there is a rather strange double error in the London Wax Museum (presumably they were not allowed to refer to Madame Tussaud)where the English Lilian refers to "drapes" and the American Columbo mentions "curtains". Someone seemed to know the correct respective terms but then got them confused.
* Other reviewers are correct. Some of the attitudes were silly and patronising - right at the end Durk actually says "By Jove!". I suppose someone just had to.
Apart from the plot the main interest lies in location spotting. We get scenes at London airport and outside New Scotland Yard near Victoria Street which means Columbo could pass Buckingham Palace on the way.
The "London Wax Museum" is actually the Imperial College Library, near the Science Museum in South Kensington (also used as a location in "The Ipcress File"), but it does allow an impressive closing shot of the Albert Hall. We also get to see the Royal Court Theatre and lots of English rain.
Apart from that I'm not sure how much of the film was shot in the UK. The stately home has a definite California feel.
This is a good Columbo entry, only marred by the usual American view of the British: we're either "Pip, pip, old boy" types or " Gor blimey, gavner" cockneys. At the time this was made the top cop show in the UK was 'The Sweeney'. Columbo meets Regan and Carter, now that would be worth watching: "Oh, just one more thing sir, er...you're nicked!"
The problem is Falk is not on camera enough to lift it, and a wealth of British character actors are wasted with not enough nuance in the script, and no interesting villain like Patrick MacGoohan, Jack Cassidy or Robert Culp to mask the story shortfalls with screen presence. The murder and denouement is just lame and it is surprising this episode came so early since it bears all the hallmarks of the type of episode you get when the series is going down the drain and a desperate attempt is made to liven the pattern up with a new location. Columbo has done far better than this, but I must admit that compared to more standard TV fare a bad Columbo is still better than a lot of other things you can pass the time with because Peter Falk is in it.
The episode boasts a wonderfully hammy performance from Richard Basehart, as one of the murderers (ably assisted by British actress Honor Blackman)and there are some very humourous scenes as we see Columbo cause mayhem at Heathrow airport and also as he scours London to take snapshots with his brother-in-law's camera.
Notwithstanding these strengths, the adventure is rather thinly plotted and uncertainly paced (the finale really comes without any significant build-up); and the murder set-up itself does not render the ingenious array of clues typical of many of the best Columbo adventures (all we really have here is a turned-over book, an unbroken set of reading glasses, rain spots on a car and an umbrella!).
Additionally, the episode does have a fragmented feel to it owing to the fact that not all of it was filmed in London (the scenes in the London pub are somewhat exaggerated and many of the character actors have awfully manufactured Cockney accents).
This is an average Columbo adventure, but still better than many of the detective shows of its kind.
There's nothing particularly innovative or amusing about it except the locale. Columbo loses track of his wife, as usual on his trips. And there are some scenes in which an audience might properly feel it's being talked down to, with Columbo running around (followed closely by the camera) and taking pictures of the changing of the guard as if the pageantry hadn't appeared in a dozen other movies. "Is that BIG BEN?", Columbo asks his guide at one point. Yes, Leftenant, it's Big Ben. "Waddaya know -- hundreds of years old and it's not off by more than a minute."
I mean, fumbling around and being gauche is one thing, but has he been raised in some cave? However, that silliness aside, the writers have folded Columbo's usual tactics neatly into the British mix.
And it has Wilfred Hyde-White as an unctuous blackmailing butler and he's peerless. And it has John Williams, too, who has played more British detectives, inspectors, and lawyers than you can count. I mean it. I tried to count them once and ran out of toes. Alas, he's bumped off early -- by a cold cream jar Honor Blackman throws his way. (People die so easily in Columbo's environs; his presence is hazardous to your health. On the other hand, the villains usually give up with an easy shrug.)
Basehart and Blackman seem to be having a good time and they're a jovial couple of murderers, chuckling and making wisecracks about their own duplicity, a regular pair of Richard IIIs.
A quick gag because I don't want to forget and it's easily missed. Someone is talking to the egomaniacal actor, Basehart, and remarks that Irving was "the greatest Shakespearean actor who ever lived." Basehart for a moment looks put out, then adds, "Well, let's say 'one of the greatest'."
Enjoyable -- AND you get to see Tower Bridge! From a boat on the Thames!
The charm of this Columbo story comes largely from transplanting the dishevelled Los Angeles detective to old London town (although most of this was shot on stages in Hollywood), a world of quaint old theatres, starched-shirt butlers, gentlemen's clubs and fish'n'chips. The script, penned by the show's creators, Richard Levinson and William Link, has some witty parallels with Macbeth and several funny moments, like the newspaper headline reading "The Butler Did It !" and Columbo's reaction to the autopsy photographs. Basehart and Blackman both give good, mildly histrionic performances and the rest of the British cast spark off nicely against Columbo's Californian sensibilities. The best bits though are the footage of Falk running around like a mad tourist at Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Tower Bridge and the Albert Hall. If only he'd been on the case of Jack the Ripper.
Some English IMDb posters have already noted that this is a shallow and condescending view of Londoners, and I believe them. Nothing about this episode rings true, and the plot is thin stuff.
Basehart and Blackman have no trouble playing affected stars, but their roles are caricatures of actors, not real people. There's no fun in watching Columbo play cat-and-mouse with a couple of cartoons. In fact, this episode starts going badly the moment he enters the scene. We first see him bumbling and inadvertently creating havoc at the airport, a would-be comic sequence that falls flat. Columbo is funny only when his seeming ineptitude causes his quarry to underestimate him. Whenever the writers have him clowning like this, you wonder if they underestimate him, too. They even having him stumbling through crowds, trying to take pictures of all the London landmarks. For all these scenes add to the story, the producers might have scrapped the location shooting and spent the money on a better script.
This whole thing just feels like a cheap imitation of an English murder mystery down to the unsatisfying conclusion at a wax museum. If Basehart and Blackman weren't having such obvious fun with their roles (they even get to play a little Shakespeare), this would be a complete bore. Columbo may be a fish out of water in England, but so is "Columbo."
MISCELLANY. This is the second episode so far to feature an unpremeditated murder. The first was in "Death Lends a Hand."
This movie has one of my favorite scenes of all time - Blackman sobbing hysterically over a coffin and babbling to Columbo (we find out later she thinks he's from the press). In the midst of her over-dramatic performance, Columbo, in his most innocent voice asks, "Is there any way for me to get tickets? I'd LOVE to see the show." Too funny. Columbo is a great character. It's a shame that the last few episodes were not up to the wonderful standards of the old episodes and his comeback episodes of the early '90s. I haven't given up hoping he'll be back in top form before Falk decides to retire.
- While on a trip to England to learn about some of Scotland Yard's latest innovations, Columbo stumbles upon a murder. The producer of a Shakespearean play has been killed and Columbo's suspicion soon fall on a husband and wife acting team appearing in the producer's latest play. Columbo must match wits with this pair of thespians to prove their guilt.
- The long running series of Columbo movies was in its second year when Dagger of the Mind was made. It's amazing that the people behind the movies felt it necessary to "jump the shark" so early in the series. The whole idea of Columbo in England is ridiculous. It's something you do when you are desperate for ratings. Fortunately for fans of Columbo, the series survived this misguided attempt to (I suppose) spice things up and continued for years.
- I have several problems with the movie, but I'll focus on only one - the ending. Without going into details, the evidence that catches the pair of killers is a bead inside an umbrella placed there by Columbo. Had the murderers only remained silent, there's no way a jury would have convicted them with such obviously planted evidence. But, in order to wrap things up in two hour time slot, one of the killers immediately falls to pieces and begins to confess to everything. How utterly silly. A man who is capable of killing someone is surely capable of withstanding the pressure of a little illegally planted evidence.
- This is easily the worst of the Columbo movies I've seen to date.
The plot on this one is a little weak in that the murder is an accident and Columbo has to result to trickery to trip up the murder solution rather than using his usual proved police methods of homicide investigation. Then again, as this episode was done more for the famous cast and London scenery, I didn't really mind.
And it's a real hoot. There's more comedy in this episode than in most of the others. Columbo runs around like the typical bumbling American tourist and has to take snapshots of everything. All of the British characters act in the exceedingly old fashioned way, owning country houses with butlers and driving 1930s-era sports cars. However, I wasn't upset by any of this stuff, I found it quite amusing.
The murder itself is a good one that well utilises a theatrical backdrop. Richard Basehart can be accused of hamming it up something dreadful as the Macbeth actor caught up in a vicious crime, but it's the lovely Honor Blackman who really shines here as his accomplice and Lady Macbeth of the piece. I fully believe she's the loveliest murderess seen in a Columbo story, and the episode benefits hugely as a result. Watch out for some fun at a waxworks, a droll Wilfrid Hyde-White in one of his most developed supporting turns, a typically ingenious climax (isn't that illegal?), and DIAL M FOR MURDER actor John Williams as the victim.
The "London Wax Museum" is not, as was stated in an earlier review, Imperial College. It's the entrance to the Royal College of Music, which is surrounded by Imperial College. The RCM would have got the cash, not IC. The Ipcress File scenes were further east, on the corner of Exhibition Road and Prince Consort Road. I spent two years living almost opposite the RCM, so knew the area very well.
The result was that I saw more good in this episode than I had noticed before, having been comprehensively turned off last time by the appallingly bizarre parallel-universe version of London on show here. It can't be London, England. Maybe there's another city called London somewhere in California where people speak with these peculiar accents, but it sure as heck isn't the London I know and love. (And it's not an era thing, as one poster pointed out, look at The Sweeney or The Professionals for a much more realistic glimpse of 70s London, not REALLY that different to today).
But yesterday when sitting down to watch "Dagger Of The Mind", I was prepared. I KNEW that what I was about to view bore no resemblance to any real location, so I deducted points for the misrepresentation of London at the start of the episode, and from then on simply allowed myself to watch the detective story, which isn't that bad.
It's not that great either, but there's so much going on that despite its flaws, this episode is never boring! Richard Baseheart and Honor Blackman actually made pretty good Columbo villains, and it was a good touch having two villains instead of the usual lone operator. Columbo's UK host Durk is played rather more subduedly, one of the less cartoony characters here.
Needless to say Columbo himself was played perfectly by Falk. It never ceases to amaze me that even in the worst Columbo episodes, whenever Falk comes on screen he elevates the quality of the viewing experience. I would like to see more of Columbo in London, because the idea of the LA cop checking out an important London murderer has real potential IMO, once over the novelty of Tower Bridge and Big Ben (which according to my DVD copy has the most bizarre chimes ever - did the sound guys drop a cassette of the chimes in a cup of hot coffee or something? The chimes play ridiculously slowly, and start speeding up halfway through, even though Columbo and Durk are having a normally pitched conversation over the top of this strange noise). One thing's for sure...I'd like to see Columbo detour into Harlesden or Peckham!
If the nature of my review is slightly scattergun and disorganised, that's a reflection of this real mixed bag of an episode. It has great actors mixed in with awful ones. It has a good murder mixed in with a bunch of unbelievable clues and coincidences. It is a silly episode, but yet it's actually quite watchable.
I'll give it a 6 out of 10, because of the watchability factor.
Finally...do actors really ponce around quoting Shakespeare in real life? As Lily says to Nicholas: "stop acting!" This could have been a lesson for the makers of this episode. Real acting doesn't mean affecting a hammy voice that nobody ever speaks like in real conversation, it means bringing a character to life and making him or her believable. Less is more, as Falk proves. If only a few of the extras hadn't "acted" so much, instead just played their parts in a more low-key, well-observed way then the show may have been more realistic.
The only reason I bring it up is that in almost every Columbo episode (possibly not the Sky High IQ one), the beautifully subtle, understated bit-parts add to the realism and atmosphere of the show. Whereas with "Dagger Of The Mind", it's this out-of-place "acting" that causes all the problems with this episode. A bit less acting and the whole thing wouldn't seem so ludicrous!
As with many TV film series (such as Perry Mason), if you like one or two of them then you'll pretty much like them all. This entry in the Columbo series pretty much follows the usual formula we know the killer and the "perfect" plan but then watch Columbo follow his hunch and gradually starts to pick holes in the story he is told before eventually finding enough to prove his suspicions. Saying this is not a spoiler it is simply what happens in all the films. With this strict adherence to formula it is usually down to several factors whether or not the Columbo film stands out or if it is just average. Worryingly the addition here seems to be the novelty value of it being in London although it appears that the shooting in London lasted about one day since it was the only bits that are England are the scenes of Columbo running around with his camera, the rest is clearly a very sunny LA and soundstages. This is not a terrible thing though and it does provide some comedy in watching him run around like a total tourist. The plot is not the most cunning but it is still fun to watch Columbo pick up on little things and play games with this suspects to draw them out without ever letting on that he really is smarter than them. The plot isn't as fun as the best cat and mouse stuff in the other films but it does the job well enough and fans will enjoy it as much as usual.
The cast are mixed indeed. Falk is as good as ever, playing his character convincingly low-key and unassuming but also delivering a nice comic touch; specifically the moment where he is trying to eat a meal while avoiding looking at autopsy pictures had me laughing out loud. Basehart is a total ham from start to finish; this doesn't really help the tension but it is quite amusing to watch. Blackman is pretty good although, like a salad with a Sunday lunch, the ham tends to dominate her. Casting Hyde-White as a butler doesn't show much imagination but Bernard Fox is nicely puffed up and serves as a good counter to Columbo's unassuming manner. The rest of the cast are just a collection of posh lots or cheeky cockneys obviously, with very little of it actually shot in London, the casting agent was charged with finding as many English clichés as he could sadly none of them are any good.
Overall this is a standard entry in the enjoyable Columbo series but the London setting isn't used very well only providing one or two scenes of scenery and a load of clichéd supporting actors. The mystery itself is still enjoyable enough and Falk's performance helps it as it is his games and trickery that adds value to the investigation. Not good enough to stand out with the best of the series but still good enough for fans to enjoy even if the cultural exchange gimmick distracts from rather than benefiting it.
The British characters are all cartoonish stereotypes, with lead Basehart (not British, of course) chewing the scenery å la William Shatner. Wilfrid Hyde-White deserves kudos for NOT joining the histrionics on display in most scenes.
OK, the idea that this episode supposedly takes place over a 24-hour period is bizarre. The autopsy, funeral arrangements, tour of London, etc. would have taken days, but the characters keep referring to "last night," when discussing the murder, at the end of the episode.
And, what's with the whole umbrella fiasco? Why is it necessary to obtain the original? I must have missed something, regarding that aspect of the plot.
The one humorous bit is Columbo attempting to eat at the posh British men's club, while his British counterparts pass autopsy photos back and forth.
My least favorite of the first two seasons. Part of the fun in watching "Columbo," is seeing the styles, architecture and attitude of early 70s LA. Now, if I had only waited to watch this next Sunday, it would have been November 26, 2006...the show originally aired on Sunday, November 26, 1972.
However, this is Hollywood England where the upper classes reign supreme in wood-panelled clubs (some nice comedy here from Peter Falk trying to eat and being faced with post-mortem photographs) while the lower orders are happy with their lot and regard any favour from their betters as "very gracious of you indeed, sir" - Joe the door-keeper should have been strangled at birth.
The plot of this Columbo episode is equally lacking in realism, with the killers having to visit the victim's home several times (supposedly English but obviously Californian), silence the sneaky butler, and break into the 'London Wax Museum' (which hasn't seen fit to invest in a burglar alarm system). The final confrontation with Richard Basehart apparently suffering some kind of breakdown is rather embarrassing, with Honor Blackman having to overact terribly to try and put the scene across. The running time is very long for a Columbo, too, at almost 95 minutes.
We get some views of Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge for local colour. Ironically the Royal Court Theatre was the home of some of the most ground-breaking and controversial plays of the 1950's and 60's, not Shakespeare (and certainly not such an old-fashioned production as we see here). It's cute to see Columbo in England, but this is far from his finest hour.
The second murder was weak too but someone else has already mentioned it. To repeat him, How was the actor able to lift the body and hang it without investigating police noticing the evidence?
I have seen better Columbo episodes....
Feeling that he's being used by legendary theater producer Sir. Roger Haversham, John Williams Shakespearean actors Nicholas Frame & Lilian Stanhope, Richard Besehart & Honor Blackman, have it out with the him in their dressing room when he threatens to destroy their careers. Sir, Roger ends up getting bopped over the head with a flying dish of cold cream splitting his skull open and killing him. Right away you see that this isn't a premeditated murder on he part of Nicholas & Lilian so they really don't have any real and air-tight plan to cover it up.
Taking Sir. Roger's body and putting it into a trunk the two drive to Sir. Roger's estate in the country and leave it at the bottom of the stairs making it look like Sir Roger died from a fall. It just happens that Lt. Columbo is visiting England's New Scotland Yard at the invitation of Chief of Det. William Durk, Bernard Fox. Without breaking a sweat Lt. Columbo get's right on the case instinctively feeling that it's murder not an accident like the local police reported it to be.
In the middle of all this both Nichols and Lilian are about to put on the play Macbeth which Let. Columbo is very interested in and gets a feed ticket, from Nicholas & Lilian, to see the play. Columbo also sees, it's never explained just how, that the two were responsible for Sir. Rogers' murder but is unable to prove it.
There's a load of hair-brained evidence like an expensive book a string of pearls an umbrella and some half dozen other objects that we get in the movie on how they all implicate both Nicholas & Lilian. Yet all these items are so flimsy that they all would be laughed out of court if they were ever presented as evidence of Nicholas & Lilian's guilt. We then, just to get things going, have Sir Roger's loyal butler Tanner ,Wilford Hyde-White, begin to blackmail the pair to keep his job.
Going to Tanner's place to talk over business, about how much he want's to keep his mouth shut, Nicholas murders the old guy and hangs him up on the chandeliers to make it look like he committed suicide because he supposedly killed his boss Sir. Richard and expected to be arrested by the police. This in fact would have been ridicules on Tanner's part because the police and Let. Columbo never suspected him in the first place! With the story really going nowhere there's this big scene set up at the end of the movie with Columbo using the magic umbrella trick in proving that Nicholas and Lilian were in fact Sir. Roger's killers. Let. Columbo seemed to have completely forgotten about the butler Tanner's murder and didn't even bother to solve it.
The set up to prove that Nicholas & Lilian killed Sir. Roger was so insane and hilarious that Nicholas, who's not wrapped too tight to begin with, had a psychotic fit. Nicholas totally freaking out seemed to confess to the killing in one of the weirdest confessions in the history of crime. Nicholas acting and looking insane ended up both mumbling incoherently his lines from the play McBeath in between his confession!