Title:"How to Dial a Murder"
Directed by: James Frawley
Written by: Anthony Lawrence (story), Tom Lazarus (teleplay)
Air Date: April 15, 1978
Previous: Make Me a Perfect Murder
Next: The Conspirators
Guest Starring: Nicol Williamson, Kim Cattrall
"How to Dial a Murder" is the fourth episode of the seventh season of Columbo.
Dr. Eric Mason (Nicol Williamson, faking an American accent) is a wealthy self-help guru whose classes seem to largely involve being mean to the people who sign up. While he teaches self-control, Dr. Mason's personal life isn't very controlled. His wife, who died under mysterious circumstances six months earlier, was cheating on him. And she was cheating on him with his friend and colleague, Dr. Charlie Hunter.
Mason comes up with an elaborate murder plot involving his two pet Dobermans, Laurel and Hardy—Mason's a movie buff. He trains the dogs to attack when they are given the verbal command "Rosebud"—Mason's a big movie buff. Mason arranges for Hunter to be at Mason's house, then places a phone call. When Charlie answers Mason coaxes him into saying "Rosebud". The dogs kill Charlie, the only witness being Mason's live-in assistant, Joanne Nichols (21-year-old Kim Cattrall) who is too late to save him. Unfortunately for Mason the investigating officer is Lt. Columbo, who immediately starts noticing odd details, like how the other house phone was unplugged (the dogs could only access the kitchen), or how the dogs seem awfully nice and friendly for two wild animals that just killed a man...
- Animal Assassin: Mason uses his two pet dogs to kill Charlie while Mason is at his doctor's office.
- Complexity Addiction: Aside from the fact that he fails to properly cover his tracks after the fact (e.g. he doesn't re-hook the first phone, he leaves evidence in his house and at the studio lot where he trained the dogs, and since his heart rate was being recorded at the time it was noted as shooting up at the exact time the murders took place), and that he is caught out lying to Columbo, the fact that the dogs were otherwise friendly and that Charlie left the phone dangling after being attacked (meaning whoever he was talking to must have heard what was happening and never reported it) makes it highly likely that the dogs were trained to kill—and if that was true, then Mason was the obvious and only suspect, because only he had the means, knowledge and opportunity to pull it off, and a simpler scheme would have been much more successful. Columbo even gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech for making so many stupid mistakes and says he was disappointed that he made it so easy.
- Dramatic Irony: After the doctor asks him how he's feeling, Mason smugly says "I never felt better in my life." This is immediately after he's murdered Charlie by phone call.
- Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Joanne's nervous, childlike manner is emphasized by how she is often found clutching her teddy bear, Sigmund.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: Subtly implied. Joanne wants to be Mason's mistress and seems to expect it, but Mason tells her it will never happen, saying "I control my own space." It's either this or it's Asexuality.
- Pet's Homage Name: Mason the film buff named his two Dobermans "Laurel and Hardy".
- Pool Scene: If it's 1978 and you have Kim Cattrall in your show, you might as well introduce her character by having her swim around the pool.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Columbo is unusually smug at the end of the movie, talking about how he was "disappointed" Mason made it so easy for him, how he told so many "obvious lies" and left clues everywhere. While he's right, he has an ulterior motive here, namely to goad Mason into using the attack phrase to sic the dogs on him (they've been retrained so the phrase no longer works).
- Right-Hand Attack Dog: Mason's dogs are usually tame and friendly, but they're trained to kill when they hear the word "Rosebud".
- Satellite Character: Joanne has little to do with the story. She doesn't witness anything incriminating, and she never tells anybody that Mason's wife and Charlie were having an affair.
- Mason has a lot of movie memorabilia. He has the iron gate seen at the beginning of Citizen Kane, as well as the "Rosebud" sled—and It Was His Sled, namely the actual one that Orson Welles uses in Citizen Kane. And the whole opening sequence of the episode is shot to mimic the famous opening to Citizen Kane, with the camera slowly approaching the silent mansion, even ending on a snow globe.
- As noted above, the dogs are named Laurel and Hardy.
- A framed photo of W.C. Fields is prominently featured.
- There are many other posters for classic movies on the walls in Mason's house.
- Sore Loser: A rare instance in the Columbo canon of the bad guy trying to kill Columbo. After Columbo lays out all the evidence Mason uses the "Rosebud" command to sic the dogs on him. What Mason doesn't know is that Columbo has had the dogs retrained so they kiss instead of kill on the command.
- This Bear Was Framed: Mason trains his dogs to kill and stages the scene to make it look like they simply went wild and attacked.
- Time Passes Montage: The sun setting and Columbo snoozing in his car, on Columbo's second visit to the dog training school. We find out at the end that Columbo was having the dogs retrained so they would no longer kill on the kill command.
- Too Clever by Half: As Columbo notes in his closing "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Mason left way too many clues in executing an overly complex murder scheme, like the straw on the floor (from the attack dummy), the unplugged phone, the phone hanging off the hook, the scrap of Charlie's jacket at the Western movie ranch, and more.
- Trigger Phrase: The ringing of the phone puts the dogs on alert, and the uttering of the word "Rosebud" after the dogs are on alert causes them to kill.
- Word Association Test: Done by Mason to Columbo as part of their mental duel. Columbo keeps throwing out words like "murder", "kill", and "voice". Mason doesn't know it but Columbo has a tape recorder in his pocket and he's hoping to elicit the kill command from Mason, to test on the dogs.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The dogs have, which is why Mason tries to poison them. Columbo interrupts him just in time.