Columbo: A Deadly State of Mind (Season 4, Ep. 6)

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Columbo gets on the case of a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to deadly effect. Spoilers.

Summary

Psychiatrist Mark Collier (George Hamilton) treats a client, Nadia Donner (Lesley Ann Warren), with hypnosis, drugs – and sex.

When Nadia’s husband discovers the affair he forces a confrontation. Collier steps in to defend Nadia, killing Mr Donner in the process. He then tells Nadia to say burglars killed her husband. Later he uses hypnosis to kill her remotely to cover his tracks.

Spoiler

A blind man hears Collier leaving the Donner home on the night of the murder. Columbo tracks him down and introduces him to Collier as an eye witness who can place Collier at the scene of the crime. Collier calls Columbo’s bluff, saying the witness can’t identify him – he’s clearly blind.

Columbo reveals this isn’t the eye witness at all but his lookalike brother – who can see perfectly well. Collier incriminates himself because there’s (probably) no way he’d know the witness was blind unless he was at crime scene at the time of the murder.

Just one more thing…

I guess technically Columbo and Quincy M.E belong to the same movie universe, i.e., LA crime scenes in the 70s. The difference is that Quincy specialises in underdog cases: the homeless, drug addicts, domestic abuse victims (and other campaign causes). Columbo works the other end of the LA spectrum: composers, doctors, lawyers, actors – i.e., people of influence and money. Perhaps that’s why their paths never crossed?

Columbo’s gift for manipulation is the secret of his success: he uses clumsy ineptitude to mask a razor-sharp intellect. My theory is that we never actually get to see Columbo’s ‘true’ character. Instead, he uses a variety of masks and role-play to mislead the murderer each time.

This is why he’s sometimes afraid of heights (sitting in the camera crane in Murder, Smoke and Shadows), but not at other times (riding the cable car in Short Fuse). Of course this could be down to continuity errors. More of that later, I guess…

Also of note

Columbo typically gets the lie of a case within minutes. Here, the plot uses a number of coincidences to make that happen. Firstly, he spots a tiny piece of metal on the rug (the flint from Collier’s lighter). Later he’s in the right place and time to realise the Donners would have known if a car arrived at the house.

And when he visits the hospital the following day, he sees Collier’s car straight away, and clocks the thin European tires (as per the tire tracks outside the Donner house).

Finally, not a coincidence but a similarity to How to Dial a Murder, which came three years later. In both episodes the killer commits murder by telephone, using a trigger word to set death in motion.


Dir. Harvey Hart, 1975