Don't you think that by the fifth or so time that Columbo pulled that ObfuscatingStupidity nonsense that news about it would start getting around the underworld?
I'm not sure that's the sort of thing crooks say to each other. "Look out for a polite, slow-witted, absent-minded short guy with bad grooming and a glass eye, cause that's the guy who beat me."
Don't forget that most, if not all, of Columbo's cases dealt with middle- to upper-class crimes of passion or revenge. Those are not the kind of people who would get the word onto the street in the first place.
...as of the later seasons, the criminal underworld was more than well aware of who Columbo was... and they had an odd respect for him. The plots of "A Bird in the Hand" and "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" involved notorious mob bosses allowing Columbo to catch the killers rather than taking matters into their own hands. Going by this- especially after Columbo caught the killer of mob boss Joey G.'s son- organized crime may have had a strict "leave Columbo alone" policy.
It also may be that Columbo's self-assessment is correct: he actually only solves about half of his cases, and we're only seeing his (rare) triumphs.
This is sort-of reinforced by one episode in which a police official is the perpetrator. He specifically requests Columbo, thinking, we can assume, that the bumbling detective is his best bet of no one working out that he did it. That only makes sense if Columbo's reputation is more "He's a slow-witted, absent-minded bumbler, who occasionally gets lucky," and less, "He's a genius who always gets his man despite acting like a buffoon," even within the police department.
Then again, the entire point of that episode - like most episodes - is that this perp is too arrogant to see beyond what's right in front of him. Besides which, the perp's the Commissioner, or the equivalent. You could make an equally strong case that, to his bosses lower down in the hierarchy, the Lieutenant is a legend and routinely assigned to cases where his unique approach seems like the only way to solve the crime/secure a conviction.
Also, you could take some of his actions to imply that the Commissioner thinks he really has committed the perfect crime, and requests Columbo specifically in order to ensure that it didn't look like he was trying to hurt the investigation
He was an Assistant Commissioner, so he didn't even have the "excuse" of being "expected" to know anything accurate about subordinate homicide cops.
Furthermore, it's possible that the crooks aren't the only people whom Lt. Columbo obfuscates stupidity towards; whilst the men on the street may be aware that the Lieutenant's actually a crime-solving genius underneath that shabbiness, Columbo possibly turns the 'I'm just a simple-minded sap who gets lucky' attitude towards the higher-ups in order to not have to worry about, say, getting promoted to a desk job that would take him away from what he loves and is good at.
Or probably the Commissioner realised that asking for 'the second best detective on the force - not Columbo, definitely not Columbo' would be even more suspicious.
That's especially true since one of the victims was his (the Commissioner's) wife.
And of course, a Commissioner presumably wouldn't be familiar with the reputation of every single one of the officers who serves in a police force as large as the LAPD, no matter how successful; he possibly just came across Columbo's photo, thought he looked like a fool and based it on that.
It's also worth pointing out that a lot of suspects do see through his Obfuscating Stupidity after the first "Oh just one more thing" moment. On one occasion Columbo asked a suspect if he had a .25 pistol as was used in the murder. The suspect mentioned Columbo's "bumbling policeman act" and pointed out that he undoubtedly already knew the answer, whereupon Columbo just laughed and admitted that he did.
Anyway, that can be considered largely Jossed- in one of the final episodes, Columbo tells the killer that he has never failed to get his man. And he wasn't going to let him be the one who got away.
In the pilot episode, Columbo almost pushes a witness to the point of suicide and in 'A Stitch In Time' Columbo drops his act to threaten the Leonard Nimoy character in no uncertain terms. Columbo grew up in a rough neighbourhood in New York, if the Obfuscating Stupidity doesn't work, he's tough enough to try more direct methods.
Actually, the "suicide" was faked. I assume you mean the pilot movie? The supposed victim was standing in the next room, hearing the killer confess that he didn't love her, which prompted her to confess the crime.
Doesn't showing the audience who dunnit in the first five minutes kind of defeat the object of this kind of show? And that's before the perp is the only person Columbo ever questions. I realise it's a popular show, so I may be in a minority here but it just bugs me.
Often, episodes take care to show that Columbo becomes suspicious of the killer very early on because of some small fatal error. For example, Columbo once decided that, because of physical evidence at the murder scene, he was looking for a cigar smoker. Lo and behold, in comes the victim's colleague, smoking a cigar.
When you say 'type of show', what do you mean? The show isn't a whodunnit, it's a 'howdoeshecatchthem'. The point of the show is the battle of wits between Columbo and the killer, and watching the clever ways Columbo gains evidence against them before finally trapping them for good.
I always assumed Columbo questioned lots of suspects, but the show is only long enough to show the interviews with the real perp. It's similar to the bit above about how he only solves half his cases. Irrelevant questions get left on the cutting room floor.
Columbo seems more like an avatar of the Furies of greek myth, than a detective. Someone offends the gods by having the hubris to pull off the perfect crime and Columbo shows up to play on their weaknesses for the purpose of hounding them to their self-destruction. Columbo does not catch murderers, he breaks them. I cannot remember the title, but the one that has the woman television producer murder her boss with a film reel change as an alibi. Columbo finds the murder weapon and places another, similar handgun above the false ceiling of the elevator, where the murderer will see it. As she thinks that it is the murder weapon, she desperately tries to recover it before someone else gets into the elevator— Columbo can be that cruel!
To call Columbo cruel seems a bit harsh. In the episode with the killer vineyard owner, he allows the killer to have one more glass of wine and provides a sympathetic ear when he explains his motives. He's generally only nasty to the culprit when they don't at all fit the Sympathetic Murderer mold.
In a similar vein, there's also the ep in which the fading movie star murders her doctor husband because he won't finance her comeback. In the end it's revealed that he refused because — unbeknownst to her — she has a degenerative brain disease that will kill her in a couple of months anyway. When her faithful lover then immediately confesses to the crime, Columbo comments that it won't take long to prove his innocence. "Might take a couple months," lover suggests. The Lieutenant considers a moment, then: "Yes...yes, it might."
There have also been episodes where he's faked evidence to get the perps to incriminate themselves. For example, "Negative Reaction" when he fakes a photograph, and "Dagger of the Mind," where he plants a piece of evidence that causes the killers to have a Villainous BSOD.
Or if you want examples of Columbo being cruel, there's the one where he can't get enough to convict a diplomat from a dictatorship of murder, but he uncovers enough to convince the dictator that the diplomat is conspiring against him (though again, not enough to convict in an American court), forcing the diplomat to confess rather than be shipped home to face torture. Or the guy he can't get evidence on, so he rats him out to the mob. Or that time he gives Roddy Macdowell a complete nervous breakdown by making him think he's trapped him in a tram car with a bomb. He usually reserves this treatment for the worst sorts, but that's hardly an excuse for how far Columbo goes some times.
In the Roddy McDowell episode though, Columbo wasn't to know how far away from sanity his character was; he was presumably aiming for a reaction such as 'Please don't light that cigar' "Why not?" "Because there's a bomb....oh!" And it could be argued that if you don't want to be trapped in a tram car with bombs; it's probably not a good idea to go round planting bombs in cigars in the first place.
Someone on the Fridge Brilliance page made the observation that whilst Columbo's the main character and star of the series, each story in fact revolves around the killer's perspective. This makes Columbo their antagonist, so the only times we see Columbo are when he's interacting directly with the killer or has discovered something that directly implicates them because it's the killer's story, not Columbo's.
This troper has always been an adherent of the theory that Columbo is a latent telepath, and is thus able to find the killers so easily.
A detective show doesn't have to be a "Whodunnit" although the exceptions to the rule are rare. In this case there's always still a certain amount of suspense typically where the specifics of the crime aren't all revealed.
What makes the show so brilliant is exactly what bugs you so much about it: most real mysteries that real life detectives deal with are exactly of this reverse sort: it is perfectly obvious from the start who did it; the real issue is figuring out how to get them. What is the evidence leading to their arrest? How to use that evidence to catch them? How to bring them in safely? More often than not "Whodunnit?" is not the greater part of the mystery if it is even a mystery at all, yet almost no fictional mysteries use this fact, to the point where figuring out who it is is enough to put them away without any hard evidence. Not so with Columbo, which is (at least in that one respect) realistic. The mystery isn't, "How do you get from point A to point Z?" They start you off with the "solution". The real solution is how to get from point Z to point A.
Regardless of all that, the perp is not the only suspect Columbo ever questions. He often talks to lots of different people. The one he thinks did it is just the guy he keeps asking to "assist" him in his work, keeping them up-to-date with his progress because he knows the real killer will almost always be easily suckered into injecting themselves into the investigations, and if they know he is getting closer and closer, they are likely to mess up. But he certainly questions other people regularly; the perp is just the one who is obviously hiding something or whose story doesn't add up, is giving them the runaround, or who the evidence points to. That makes it more realistic than typical murder-mysteries where much of the problem is everyone happens to have a secret they'd lie about at the worst possible time, when a crime has been commited.
In the episode "An Exercise in Fatality," the final, damning thing that Columbo nails the killer with is... the knot on the victims shoelace. That's... that's just really reaching. You'd never get a guy convicted on that. Heck, you couldn't even arrest a guy on it. And he didn't incriminate himself, either.
Not to mention the fact that, as pointed out on a fan website, Columbo makes the demonstration mentioning how it's how "right handed people" tie their shoes... Only the victim is clearly shown as left-handed!
Oh, there's a lot more where that one came from, believe me. Officially it's handwaved by assuming that Columbo's got the perps so nerved up by then that they just fall apart; unofficially, Word Of God has cheerfully acknowledged that the show's structure owes a lot more to the classic drawing-room mystery than the strict police procedural.
Columbo himself acknowledges it from time to time (especially up against Patrick McGoohan's various villains) that he knows he's done it, and he presents his evidence that proves that he knows to the villain. however he knows that it's too weak to convict or even arrest. BUT then he adds "I'll be waiting for you to trip up".
The point of that scene was that Milo Janus admitted, in his signed statement, that he knew the victim was already in his gym clothes... which he'd not have known at all if he hadn't killed the man, as Columbo was certain- with other little bits of evidence- that Milo had killed the man long before the faked phone call, plus the knot in the lace supposedly proving that the victim had not dressed himself.
Columbo is Droopy Dog with a police badge. He'll just keep at it until the murderer goes mad and confesses just to get some peace and quiet.
And this bugs you because...?
Well, sometimes it can be a bit of a headscratcher how the bad guys consistently trip up just from annoyance when their livelihood is on the line. But to be fair, some villains are more patient with more proof against them.
As much as I liked the show, the part that always bugged me was how Columbo would gather evidence and carry it around with him as if it would still be admissable. I think it would be incredibly hard to classify something as evidence if he found it one day and didn't turn it in until three or four days later, while carrying it around in his pocket all that time.
Not that we KNOW he does so...
But he does fiddle with that stuff around the bathtub incessantly in the episode wherein the guy is murdered in his tub, touching everything at the crime scene with his bare hands. It's almost as if they're playing his incompetent behavior at a murder scene for laughs, but that wouldn't excuse it even if they were.
The episode 'Dagger of the Mind' annoys this troper with the conclusion. Sure, Columbo has planted or contrived evidence before, but the emphasis has always been on the way the villain reacted to it and showing that if he had been innocent he would not have acted in that way. But in DOTM, it is ONLY the planted evidence that gets the villain convicted.
But it was the reaction that did it. The killers completely freaked out.
Although it's also worth noting that Columbo clearly wasn't going to tell DCI Durk what he'd done if Durk hadn't asked, so if Durk had been a less honest (or inquisitive) man, it's quite possible that no one would ever have known the pearl was planted.
Why do the people always confess? Why don't they give a court case a try? In the episode with the pearl in the umbrella, it was planted evidence. he would never have gotten a case out of it.
The criminals in the show suffer from the same problem that the bad guys have in Scooby-Doo. They have to confess at the end to wrap up the plot for the audience. "I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids."
The court case is never shown, but modern audiences saw what happens when a rich person goes to court for murder when OJ Simpson was tried in 1995. If that level of forensic evidence didn't convict OJ, then a Columbo perp's lawyer could make mincemeat of any jury.
They didn't know it was planted. They assumed they'd made a mistake.
The murderers admitting their guilt is a way to show the remnants of dignity they managed to retain during the investigations. One of the typical ingredients of "the Columbo formula" is that the murderers are high-class, intelligent people, not some primitive, drunken oafs. Everyone knows the lieutenant wins in the end, so the villians get to make a grand exit as a way to lose graciously.
Besides in this particular story, the confession played off the play that was being preformed by the couple ("Out out damned spot").
In the episode "Forgotten Lady" Columbo's proof that the killer did it was that the film she was watching broke, and if she were in the screening room as her alibi had it, why didn't she fix it quicker than she did when she returned after committing the crime. Neither Columbo nor the man desperately trying to protect her consider she might just have fallen asleep before the film broke.
True, but the episode also goes to great lengths to show that she's absolutely fascinated with these old films, the last visible symbol of her glory days, and watches them with great intensity. Also worth noting is that — unless she's an unusually heavy sleeper, which older people generally aren't — there's a good chance the abrupt cut to dead silence would wake her anyway.
Of course, if she'd had to go to the bathroom or something then it might have also accounted for the time difference...
Maybe, maybe not. As Columbo noted particularly, the film in question had a running time of one hour forty-five minutes, yet she was seen watching the end of the film some two hours and one or two minutes after the butler started it. Columbo damaged the film again to test how long it took her to repair it, and timed her at three minutes, so there's at least eleven minutes to account for, perhaps as much as fourteen. That's a long trip to the bathroom.
"Forgotten Lady" has a b-plot of Columbo missing out on his mandatory firing range testing. After repeated hounding and a threat of losing his job by Internal Affairs... Columbo hands Sgt. Burke his badge and $20, and tells him to go and take the test because "I can't hit the target". We assume this worked because he wasn't fired. How in the HELL did this work? Sgt. Burke looked nothing like Columbo, one would think, at the very least, that the officer in charge of the pistol range would have checked the badge photo, and that is assuming that the same officers who had been hounding Columbo had not been waiting there for him.
Even then, if it's canon that Columbo has a glass eye, same as Falk did, then the department should know his aim would be terrible. His superiors should also know he never carried a gun.
This is IA we are talking about (the unit that all cops hate). And Columbo, probably one of the most beloved officers on the force. So Sgt Burke goes down to the range and shows the badge, fires the gun and leaves. The officer in charge of the range says 'Yes, someone bearing the ID of Lt Columbo definitely turned up and took the test"