“Let me put it this way…I follow my nose and when I get the scent there’s very little that I wouldn’t do in order to solve the case.” – Columbo
Columbo is a guest speaker in a criminology course at a College. The name of the College doesn’t matter – mostly because I don’t remember it if it is ever mentioned. While speaking to the class a student asks Columbo a question about manufacturing evidence and noted above is the Lieutenant’s response. We know that, of course, as fans of the dogged Lieutenant, we know he stops at nothing to get the murderer. However, the students haven’t a clue, evidenced by the fact two of the ones privileged enough to listen to Columbo that day have the gall to commit murder as they sit in on his presentation. This episode is unique in that the Lt. makes his entrance in it before the murder occurs. I believe this occurs in only a couple of other episodes in the show’s long run.
Worth noting is a nice bit of trivia – when we first see Columbo in Columbo Goes to College, while he is speaking to the students he is talking about a murder from an episode the previous year, Agenda for Murder. He describes how he obtained a piece of chewing gum belonging to murder suspect Oscar Finch (Patrick McGoohan), which matched the teeth marks on a piece of cheese left at the murder scene. Fun stuff.
Columbo Goes to College is listed in many places as Episode 1 of Season 10, of the famed and unique police series. Originally aired in 1990, it is one of the later episodes, which were marketed as mystery movies as part of a weekly anthology/movie series that featured Columbo outings among other stories. My copy of Columbo Goes to College followed the DVD release of the regular season of the series and is billed as “Columbo: Mystery Movie Collection.” By 1990 Columbo was no longer a regular series.
Young, spoiled and conceited , Cooper Redman and Justin Rowe (played by Gary Hershberger and Stephen Caffrey respectively) are college students who think they can get away with everything. They have all of their lives. But now that they’re adults, their respective fathers are putting the pressure for success. Cooper’s father gives him an ultimatum, either he starts to get his act together or he’s on his own and Justin’s father knows he’s a loser as well. Then the possible last straw materializes when both students are called out by their professor, Rusk (played by James Sutorius) for having stolen an exam. Rusk threatens to expel them so the two devise a plan to kill the Professor, finding perfect cover ups in the fact the Professor has written many books about crime and criminals, angering many people. In addition, they know the professor has been having an affair so they think there are many more suspects to be had before they’d ever be suspected of anything sinister – after all, they are rich and from respectable families.
Justin (the brains behind the plan and the more arrogant of the two) and Cooper steal a gun and wait until class to commit the murder, which is a highly technical rigging of a gun to fire remotely as they watch the professor step into the exact spot through a camera they’ve fixed into the hood of their truck. Teaching the class the evening of the murder is non other than Lt. Columbo. But the murder goes off as planned and Columbo and all the students find the professor’s body as they leave for the night.
Oh…and, one more thing…the blood splatter from the gunshot wound to the head in this murder is quite gory in comparison to murders featured in earlier, classic episodes. Welcome to the 1990s.
The murderers: This episode has two murderers who worked in conjunction to kill their professor, as mentioned above. The fact that there are two is of distinction – not a regular Columbo fare. However, they also happen to be, to my recollection, the stupidest of any murderer ever featured on Columbo. It is an annoyance to watch them. If not for my Lt., I wouldn’t like the episode much. The two jerks are arrogant, but arrogance is very often inherent in Columbo murderers. The two are rich and privileged, another commonality. They are also all too eager to lend a helping hand to the seemingly bumbling homicide Lt., another grand mistake along Columbo lines. But these two…seriously, I have no words to describe their stupidity as they go well beyond being helpful and into the realm of gossip-mongering and pettiness.
Making matters worse, the father of one of the two, Justin, happens to be the attorney for the College where the murder takes place. Caught in his son’s ill-fated web of deceit, albeit a dumb-ass one, the attorney (played by semi-regular Columbo guest star, Robert Culp who makes his fourth and final appearance in the series with this episode, and the only time he doesn’t play the murderer), consistently lectures and talks down to the Lt. I love Robert Culp and he’s one of my favorite Columbo villains ever. A great actor. But he’s extra despicable in Columbo Goes to College. Even knowing full well Columbo is more than capable of taking care of himself and that he already knows who the murders are due to their behavior, I still have to hold myself back from slapping Culp with the force of Joan Crawford. He reeks of disrespect. I won’t have it! I hate that he’s so damn handsome.
But then, the “gotcha” in the episode makes even the abhorrent disrespect worth while. Columbo, again guest-lecturing at the College decides to hold the evening’s class by recreating the crime for the students with the murderers among them. So, using the same method of the murder, via a remote control-type camera and gun gadget, the Lt. fires on the same spot from the classroom into the garage where the murder occurred. Then the Lt. takes the students to the scene of the crime, where the professor had died from the gunshot and begins to demonstrate exactly how the trigger was pulled. Remotely. When suddenly he asks Justin to demonstrate his remote car locking device, aware that when the punk presses the button a bullet will be fired. GOTCHA you young, rich, dirty slime ball!
The fun ain’t over. It’s a double-whammy GOTCHA in this episode!
The Lt. had previously set a trap for the young murderers by pitching another suspect their way, giving them the opportunity to try to plant the murder weapon in the other man’s car, a man with a long rap sheet. They fall for it hook, line and sinker. Except one small thing…the car they planted the gun in really belongs to Mrs. Columbo. BOOK ‘EM. SUSPICION OF MURDER. SWEET! A very satisfying ending with the added bonus of an appearance by Dog via a photo that resides in Mrs. Columbo’s car.
I watched this episode today because it was the featured choice for the folks at #ColumboTV, the place where Columbo fans the world over converge once a month, to watch an episode and comment on Twitter. Each month there is also a special host with Neal (aka @nealmaidment) doing the honors from down under today. Neal was wonderful as host and leader to a band of Columbo enthusiasts – funny people whose comments make fun of the times depicted in the episodes as well as the characters and – appropriately – applaud our beloved, genius Lt. It was refreshing to see most felt as I do about the murderers in today’s episode with special attention, and energy, paid Robert Culp who has an impressive fan following. As in previous months today’s was an enthusiastic outing resulting in #ColumboTV trending on Twitter once again.
Lt. Columbo: Well, sometimes, when you know something, it’s better to keep it to yourself. You don’t have to blab everything right away. Wait. Who knows what will happen? Timing. That’s important. And lucky. You got to be lucky.
We are indeed, Lt. Lucky to have you.
Until next time.
Columbo Goes to College originally aired on December 9, 1990.
|E.W. Swackhamer||(as E. W. Swackhamer)|
|Richard Levinson||(creator) and|
|Jeffrey Bloom||(story) and|
|Frederick King Keller||(story)|
You can view a list of the full cast and crew here.