Follow TV Tropes


Headscratchers / Columbo

Go To

  • Don't you think that by the fifth or so time that Columbo pulled that Obfuscating Stupidity 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.
      • 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.
    • Advertisement:
    • 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.
    • Most of the people we see Columbo tangling with were hardly in a position to get the word from the underworld, to be fair. Its not like Dr. Rich Smugasshole, Beverly Hills plastic surgeon to the stars, is necessarily going to be getting weekly updates from Gus Streetcrook, goon for hire, on police strategy and which lieutenants he should avoid being assigned to the intricate murder he's planning.
    • Also worth noting that many of the suspects actually do stop being fooled by Columbo's "shabby dimwit" schtick somewhere around the second "Oh, just one more thing...", but by that point there's not really a lot they can do about it since he's already got his hooks into them.
    • Advertisement:
    • And for that matter, even the kind of criminals Columbo comes up against have limited ability to influence precisely which detectives the LAPD is going to assign to investigate a crime they've committed. Even if the word spreads about Columbo, there's not really a heck of a lot they can do about him.
  • 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.
    • Actually, Milo Janus could be convicted of perjuring himself in a sworn statement and the idea that he will go for sate time plus face federal charges (wire fraud, etc.) is going to functionally be a life sentence
    • 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".
    • Advertisement:
    • 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.
    • Something else which springs to mind and might be of relevance here. At one point in an early Sherlock Holmes story (it might even be the first, "A Study in Scarlet"), Holmes notes that contrary to expectations, in his experience the crimes which are formed of a complex, intricate scheme (such as the murders Columbo is faced with) are often usually the easiest to solve and get a conviction for. He points out that this is because there's more evidence to dispose of and / or forget about, there's more things that can go wrong, more spanners that have to be kept out of the works and more ways that the perpetrator can slip up, so there's inevitably going to be something he can follow to the solution. Conversely, if you just suddenly bludgeon someone on a darkened street when there's no one around and run off without trying anything more clever than wearing gloves and throwing the pipe you used away, it's often much harder to find any kind of evidence to put you there. Columbo does something similar; he might not have an eyewitness see the murderer red-handed, but as noted above often it's just a matter of finding enough little things that the murderer's forgotten about but which, when combined, poke enough holes in his or her story to make it fall apart.

  • 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.
    • Besides in this particular story, the confession played off the play that was being preformed by the couple ("Out out damned spot").
    • 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.
      • Yes. These are not hardened criminals. When their alibi is torn to shreds, they know they've been beaten, and they are not the type simply to brazen it out. Moreover, Columbo has already talked them through every excuse and evasion they can come up with. When they are actually interrogated, what kind of story could they possibly give?
    • 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. Whether they get convicted or not, we have clear evidence that the person is the murderer because we've seen them do it. But the murderer is always convinced that no one will ever figure out how they did it, that they've committed a flawless, fool-proof crime that no one could ever possibly figure out or link to them. 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.
    • Given that we never see Columbo read anybody their Miranda rights, it's entirely likely that these confessions would not be admissible in court anyway.
    • Also, it's fiction. Rule of Drama, guys and girls. It's simply a way of giving the story we've just seen a reasonably satisfying ending.
  • 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.
      • Actually, this point is a bit of a myth- having one eye would not interfere with aiming skills. Careful aiming with gun sights can be done with one eye closed, and anyone using a scope(such as a sniper) will be using one eye by default. HOWEVER, depending on whether or not his good eye is opposite to his preferred hand, then things may be a bit complicated- while one could get around that with practice, it's suggested Columbo hated to even hold or fire a gun, meaning he'd be out of practice either way, one eye or two.
    • 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".
    • Worth noting; on an episode of QI, comedian Frank Skinner discusses an argument he had with his comedy partner David Baddiel about whether Peter Falk's glass eye was actually 'acting' as a real eye (i.e. whether it was supposed to be an actual eye as opposed to whether Columbo was supposed to only have one eye). The example above aside, I suppose you could just theoretically argue that for the most part Columbo was simply supposed to be a two-eyed individual who happened to be portrayed by a one-eyed actor.
  • So what exactly was Hassan Salah's motive in "A Case Of Immunity"? Was he trying somehow to overthrow the new king? Was it just to steal money from the ligation's funds? Or just to maybe kill some people he disliked?
  • A minor nitpick: In "A Deadly State of Mind", Columbo wisely records the tire track from Dr. Collier's Mercedes, however, Collier crashed his car into a light-post at the Donner driveway. Assuming that lamp pillar has significant mass, wouldn't there be cosmetic damage on the Mercedes that Columbo should have asked Collier about? Columbo notices the lamp is damaged, but it isn't brought up again.
    • I don't remember the specifics of the episode, but assuming the damage was cosmetic Collier could have had it quickly repaired before Columbo managed to investigate it.
  • "A Stitch In Crime", Dr. Mayfield replaced the normal suture with dyed dissolving suture, so that Dr. Hidemann will be killed when it dissolves in the new heart valve. he apparently assumes everyone will write it off as failure of the valve, but wouldn't the autopsy reveal that the suture had dissolved? Wouldn't an examination of any remaining suture also reveal the dye used? Even without being able to prove the exact individual that did the switch, there would still be proof that a deliberate murder had been committed once a corner looked inside.
    • If memory serves, at the time Dr. Mayfield comes up with the plan involving dissolving suture, he's not expecting there to be an autopsy. Autopsies aren't necessarily performed automatically upon someone dying, they're usually only conducted if the person dies under obviously suspicious circumstances requiring investigation (apparent homicides, suicides, other such sudden unexplained deaths and so on) or if the victim's family otherwise requests one. Since Dr. Hidemann is well-known to have an existing heart condition and no one (at that point at least) suspects Dr. Mayfield of having any reason to murder him, Dr. Mayfield is initially banking on no one finding the circumstances around Dr. Hideman's death to be suspicious or unexpected enough to require an autopsy. As far as Mayfield believes, it would just be assumed that Dr. Hidemann simply died of his pre-existing condition and the surgery wasn't enough to save him. Unexpected and unfortunate, perhaps, but not uncommon or unusual; heart surgeries don't always work. The whole reason his scheme gets foiled is because he has to murder the nurse who discovers his plot, which brings in Columbo, who discovers the reasons why Mayfield might want Hidemann dead, which means he's likely to request that the coroner orders an autopsy to be performed if anything happens to Hidemann, which means that Mayfield's scheme is likely to be exposed.


Example of: