2.4 Dagger of the Mind

Originally aired: 26 November 1972 • Run Time: 100 mins

In a nutshell: Columbo goes to London – pip pip old chap, apples and pears, apples and pears.

CREDITS

Director: Richard Quine

Written by: Jackson Gillis, story by Richard Levinson & William Link

Cast: Peter Falk: Lt. Columbo, Richard Basehart: Nicholas Frame, Honor Blackman: Lilian Stanhope, Wilfrid Hyde-White: Tanner, Bernard Fox: Det. Chief Supt. William Durk, John Williams: Sir Roger Haversham, John Fraser: Det. Sgt. O’Keefe, Richard Pearson: Diver, Arthur Malet: Joe Fenwick, Harvey Jason: The Director, Ronald Long: Mr. Jones

THE CRIME

Murderer: Husband and wife theatrical team Nicholas Frame and Lilian Stanhope played by Honor Blackman and Richard Basehart, the latter with fruity accent and lipsmacking relish, the former with her usual steely charm.

Victim: Sir Roger Haversham, played – very briefly – by John Williams. He’s a theatrical promoter who no longer cares to promote Nicky and Lily, despite – or because of – Lily’s attempts to seduce him.

Murderer’s plan: No elaborate premeditation this time; the killing is accidental (Lilian clonks him on the head with a cold cream jar thrown in a rage). The murderers do go to some lengths to conceal their crime; hiding the body in a trunk while they finish the play and then returning it to his home at the foot of the stairs where it will be discovered in the morning, and an accident will be assumed. When this begins to fall apart, they plant the red herring of a valuable manuscript which has gone missing while supposedly in Sir Roger’s care.

Murderer’s error: Committing a murder when Columbo is in town! Also, getting their stories too straight. Having interviewed them separately, Columbo compares his and his wife’s hazy recall of events with Lilian and Nicky’s perfect agreement: “you even use the same words”.

Key clue: Sir Rodger’s apparent mis-treatment of a rare book in his library, and the fact that his glasses, in his breast pocket when he supposedly fell, are unbroken.

Howcatchem: One of Lily’s pearls from a broken necklace is discovered in Sir Roger’s umbrella which is used as a prop for his waxwork. This places the umbrella and Sir Roger at the theatre when the necklace was broken, and Nicky promptly goes to pieces. That this particular pearl needed a bit of help from Columbo to arrive within the umbrella’s folds is hardly worth mentioning!

THE FORMULA

Environment: The London theatrical scene, and tourist attractions

New technology: None, unless you count Londoner’s habits concerning umbrellas.

Formula intact? Set in London rather than LA. Cover-up rather than premeditation. Two murderers. Columbo’s arrival on the scene precedes his being informed about a crime.

COLUMBO HIMSELF

Bumbles about at Heathrow Airport opening the wrong bag under the nose of the British bobbies who are looking for him. Is travelling with his wife’s bag which he loses at the airport. His brother is in the National Guard and lent him a camera with which he takes pictures of London Busbies. Can’t bring himself to look at autopsy pictures while eating (a very funny sequence, quite in keeping with Columbo’s character despite being utterly incredible for an LAPD detective). His raincoat keeps out the rain for once.

Star-struck: Asks for tickets to Lilian’s play at the funeral. Declares their production of “Macbeth” to be “better than any movie”.

Obsession of the week: His missing suitcase, and his camera. The suitcase is completely forgotten once he has a case to get his teeth into.

Sidekick of the week: Detective Chief Superintendent Durk played with perfect stiff upper lip formality by Bernard Fox. Durk is not a bumbling “Nigel Bruce” Watson – he suggests the post-mortem when others are happy to assume accident and ably assists Columbo throughout. It’s a shame that such a strong character, necessarily guiding Columbo around, has to share screen time with two murderers; the effect is to dilute the one-on-one gamesmanship of the best episodes.

Mrs Columbo: Packs for him – in her bag! Always calls Columbo about “some errand at the grocery store”. Remains in LA while her husband takes his trip to London.

Fish out of water: Columbo adapts to the London environment rather well, despite being unable to rely on unquestioning LAPD support for lab tests and such like.

Cigars: Puffs away on his second visit to Sir Roger’s house, and again while reading the paper in the park. He even has one on the go at the waxwork museum.

“Just One More Thing”: Apologises to Lily and Nicky for keeping them so long, and then turns to deliver the killer blow in the doorway.

Quotes: (arriving at Scotland Yard) COLUMBO: You mean that’s it? O’KEEFE: I expect you’ve seen pictures of the new Scotland Yard, Lieutenant. COLUMBO: That looks pretty new to me. O’KEEFE: Yeah, but New Scotland Yard was the old headquarters. But it wasn’t Old Scotland Yard, no no no, it was New Scotland Yard, but er… COLUMBO: I’m gonna take a picture.

Trivia: Costume designer Grady Hunt was nominated for an Emmy. The title of the episode is a quotation from Macbeth (“art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?”) and had previously been used as the title of a Star Trek episode.

Any good? The UK location is fresh and funny, partly because it’s such a Hollywood rendition of London (not only touristy locations, but also gentlemen’s clubs, “gorblimey” cockneys and snooty butlers). It seems clear that the crew had a couple of days’ location filming to grab the “money” shots and filmed the rest in the studio as usual. Maddeningly, despite the script clearly intending the finale to take place at Madame Tussaud’s, this has been changed to “The London Wax Museum” and The Royal College of Music stands in on location. Presumably Tussaud’s refused permission.

While the murderers chew the scenery with predictable relish, Wilfred Hyde-White is a treat, as ever, as the wily butler who sees an opportunity for himself in his master’s murder. This subplot resolves with a newspaper headline proclaiming “The butler did it”! Other allusions are less satisfactory. The laboured connection between the play being performed (“Macbeth”) and the real-life murder is grating, and the references to Sherlock Holmes misplaced. At least the clichéd nonsense about Macbeth being unlucky is avoided.

What’s interesting about this episode is the way in which the usual Columbo class divide is magnified by the substitution of the American wealthy upper class with the rather grander British ruling class. The British policeman are all stolidly middle-class of course (excepting Durk who takes Columbo to his club), but still reserve just a touch of disdain for the dishevelled American. Actors playing Brits can’t decide whether to say “Loo-tenant” or “Leff-tenant” which is annoying.

OTHER SOUCRES

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One Response to “2.4 Dagger of the Mind”

  1. Jackytreehorn Says:

    I noticed that the end scene seemed to have a jaguar with white walled tyres that is rare in the UK and more akin to a US specced export, and ford with what looked like American plates.

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