Headscratchers: Columbo

  • 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. It's not like Columbo focuses on Mob crime. He's a homicide detective, which only gets involved in the case of overlap.
    • 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 triumphs.
  • 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.
      • This can often be used to explain a lot of how Columbo's mysteries end in a conviction. He often freely admits that by themselves, a lot of the evidence he comes across is circumstantial or weak, but it's usually a matter of using all the contradictions and circumstantial evidence to poke enough holes in the killer's story until it becomes clear that it's all just a house of cards. Like, by itself a man's shoelace isn't enough to convict, but the shoelace combined with the doctored tapes (used to fake the phone call) and the evidence that the killer knew the victim was in his gym clothes when he couldn't possibly have known (and so on) is enough to make an arrest.
  • 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. 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").
    • Not every episode ends with a confession, and since we never see the inevitable court cases, it's entirely possible some of the killers end up beating the rap.
    • We should also remember the whole point of the series. The point isn't to see the criminals going through the court system to a conviction or not al la Law & Order or something; it's simply to see how Columbo is going to figure out how the murderer committed the crime and what flaws are going to trip them up. Look at it this way; we don't need to see a conviction because we already know that this person is the murderer, but the murderer is always convinced that no one will ever figure out how they did it. When Columbo does, whether they're ultimately convicted or not, they'll now have to live with the fact that their so-called perfect murder wasn't anything of the kind and at least one other person knows full well that they're a murdering scumbag, and to add insult to injury it's the scruffy little nobody they were convinced was a complete dimwit. Given what egotistical blowhards a lot of these murderers are, that has to chafe just a little bit.
  • 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.
    • This particular episode is discussed often. The point of the breaking film is not really to prove that Grace killed her husband. It proves that she could have done it - by providing a time frame, just as the presence of the tree outside the window provides an escape route. Together with all the small things that cast serious doubt on the alleged suicide, and the fact that there was virtually no other suspect available, the broken film was a way to establish that she could kill him - and not really to police, either, but to Columbo himself and to the actor friend.
  • "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"
      • That still relies on the IA officer who had confronted Columbo being absent from the pistol range. Provided he had been there, Columbo would've been in serious trouble. Not that he wasn't at risk of being fired anyway, but Sgt. Burke also put his neck on the line in the process.
  • Has Columbo only one eye? I mean, we all know that Peter Falk had an glass eye, but is that eye playing a real eye in the series or not?
    • I can't remember the episode, but I remember him saying something along the lines of "Between the two of us (meaning his dog), we got three good eyes" and, thus, can get along. Again, I might be misremembering, but it was never directly addressed beyond that little touch.
      • A Trace of Murder. The exact line to the forensic investigator is, "...three eyes are better than one".