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Recap / Columbo S 04 E 03

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Episode: Season 4, Episode 3
Title:"By Dawn's Early Light"
Directed by: Harvey Hart
Written by: Howard Berk
Air Date: October 27, 1974
Previous: Negative Reaction
Next: Troubled Waters
Guest Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Tom Simcox, Bruce Kirby, Bruno Kirby

"By Dawn's Early Light" is the third episode of the fourth season of Columbo.

Patrick McGoohan, in the first of four Columbo episodes where he plays the murderer (and the only one of said four appearances where he wasn't also directing), is Colonel Lyle C. Rumford. He's the commandant of Haynes Military Academy, a military college that is really The Citadel with the serial numbers filed off, and transplanted to Los Angeles (in fact, this episode was filmed at The Citadel).

Haynes Academy has fallen on hard times, with enrollment at barely a quarter of capacity, as military schooling is no longer an easy sell in the post-Vietnam era. William Haynes, grandson of the founder of Haynes Academy, doesn't have Rumford's respect for the institution, and personally loathes Rumford, having himself attended the academy as a cadet earlier in Rumford's tenure. Haynes has an idea to revive the sagging fortunes of the academy: converting the academy into a co-ed junior college. Rumford, the hidebound traditionalist, is horrified, and moreso by the fact that Haynes also is intent on removing Rumford from his leadership role.

Rumford decides to kill Haynes. Haynes has arrived for the Founder's Day ceremony honoring his grandfather. Rumford tampers with the ceremonial cannon in the courtyard, and when Haynes fires it, the cannon explodes and he is killed. Rumford has a fall guy: Roy Springer, a less-than-stellar young cadet who had been tasked with cleaning the cannon. When Lt. Columbo of the LAPD finds the shredded remnants of a cotton rag soaked with gun oil, Rumford suggests that Cadet Springer forgot to remove his rag, thus plugging the barrel and causing the explosion. But Columbo is still troubled by other evidence, like the mysterious blueprints in Haynes's car, and the fact that the explosion was unusually loud...and his suspicions are confirmed when chemical analysis shows traces of C4.

Father-and-son Bruce Kirby and Bruno Kirby appear as Sgt. Kramer of the police and Cadet Morgan of the academy. Patrick McGoohan won an Emmy for guest star on a drama for his appearance in this episode.


  • The Alleged Car: One of many many jokes about Columbo's ancient car. When he's tracking down Springer's girlfriend, the student at the women's college is skeptical, looking at Columbo's Peugeot and saying "Sure doesn't look like a police car."
  • Briar Patching: Rumford knew Haynes when he was a cadet at the academy, and knows that Haynes has a deep contrarian streak that makes him want to do anything someone else says he shouldn't do. So Rumford makes sure to tell Haynes that Capt. Loomis would be a better choice for the ceremonial firing of the cannon. Haynes falls for it and insists on firing the cannon himself.
  • California Doubling: Inverted for once. As mentioned above the episode, set in Los Angeles, was actually filmed at South Carolina's Citadel Military Academy.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The jar of apple cider, which the cadets are fermenting, and which Rumford spots as he is rigging up the cannon. Rumford goes on a seemingly irrelevant hunt for the cadets who are violating school rules by fermenting alcohol. This is how Columbo gets him: it turns out that Rumford could only have seen the cider as he was rigging the cannon, as it hadn't been hanging up before and the mischievous cadets always took it down before reveille.
  • Expy: Haynes Academy for the Citadel. In Real Life the Citadel didn't admit women until 1996.
  • Fatal Flaw: Rumford's obsession with catching the moonshiners leads to him falling into Columbo's trap. His obsession with the status quo also motivated his murder.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The C4-rigged cannon exploding near Haynes isn't shown, but the cries of horror from the onlookers implies that it was a grisly scene.
  • Hates Small Talk: When Haynes shows up at Rumford's office and Rumford says "How was your trip?", Haynes says "Let's skip the amenities" and launches into how he's going to take Haynes Academy co-ed whether Rumford likes it or not.
  • Irony: Rumford's attention to detail over the relatively petty of the cider nabs him. He also claims he stands for logic, ATD, justice, and professionalism, and always dresses nicely, but he's caught by a shabby little man in a raincoat who actually embodies those traits. And he committed murder over his own prejudices and emotions.
  • I Regret Nothing: Upon having his entire scheme exposed by Columbo, Rumford takes his defeat with grace, having not regretted his actions and going as far as saying that he would do it all again tomorrow if given the chance.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Rumford sets the scene to make it look like Cadet Springer forgot to remove the rag from the cannon. He neglects to think about the possibility that the cops would detect C4 explosive in the cannon.
  • Military Moonshiner: Rumford incriminates himself by going on a crusade to track down the boys who are making alcoholic apple cider (hanging the bottle outside in the wee hours of the morning to help it ferment). Columbo is able to show that the only way he could have been aware of it was if he was standing by the academy cannon while rigging it to explode.
  • No Name Given: Famously, Columbo's first name was never revealed over 69 TV movies. It's lampshaded in this episode when Rumford asks.
    Col. Rumford: Do you have a first name?
    Lt. Columbo: I do. My wife is the only one that uses it.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: Rumford takes an artillery shell that is supposed to be filled with only black powder, thus only making a "boom" sound, and packs the shell with C4 explosive instead. This and the cleaning rag stuffed down the barrel causes the cannon to explode, killing Haynes.
  • Reverse Psychology: Rumford uses this to get Haynes to be the one to fire the cannon and get himself blown up.
  • Shout-Out: A very, very subtle one in this episode to The Prisoner (1967). Take a look at the unit patches worn by Col. Rumford when he's wearing his uniform jackets: On one shoulder is the unit patch for the United States Sixth Army, while the other patch is that of the First Infantry Division (the famed "Big Red One.") The first patch is a very likely reference to McGoohan's role as "Number Six" in The Prisoner, while the other, in tandem with it could be a reference to the reveal of the final episode that heavily implied that Number Six was actually Number One, the oft-referenced but never-seen chief administrator of The Village.
  • Sleeping Single: Oddly, Officer Corso of the police is shown sleeping in a single bed, with his wife in another single bed. This was years after American television had gotten past the whole Sleeping Single business.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Col. Rumsford, for all his faults, isn't a hypocrite regarding his motives and ideals. He genuinely believes his actions, including killing Haynes, is in the best interests of the country. In a heart-to-heart with Columbo, he confides his greatest desire being a peaceful world where neither soldiers nor police officers are needed - but until then, he will do whatever's necessary to protect his homeland.