COLUMBO: MIND OVER MAYHEM (1974)

(peacock/tubi) You may have heard that Jessica Walter passed away yesterday and, to celebrate her life, I’d like to draw your attention to one of her lesser known roles, that of Margaret Nicholson in COLUMBO’s -Mind Over Mayhem-.

Sadly, -Mind Over Mayhem- is not a classic episode of COLUMBO; it’s probably best known for featuring FORBIDDEN PLANET’s Robby the Robot as government robot MM7, and young Lee Montgomery as a boy genius pointedly named ‘Steve Spelburg’. (Steven Spielburg directed the early COLUMBO episode -Murder by the Book-.) Walter stands out as a young, brilliant, psychologist who happens to be the wife of the victim, Dr. Howard Nicholson (Lew Ayres), an older government chemist. José Ferrer is Dr. Marshall Cahill, the director of a government think tank, who ends up murdering Howard to protect his son (Robert Walker Jr.) from allegations of plagiarism.

Ferrer is a fantastic actor but he makes for a rather lousy villain when compared to indelible Columbo murderers such as Robert Culp or Patrick McGoohan. Ferrer’s cool composure simply doesn’t play too well with Falk’s rhythms. It doesn’t help that the murder itself is sloppier than most, resulting in a rather perfunctory game of cat-and-mouse.

However, even a substandard 70s-era episode of COLUMBO is still worth your time, and it features several amusing bits with Dog, Columbo’s dog, as well as predictably novel interplay between Columbo and MM7/Robby the Robot (including Falk antiquated pronunciation of ‘robut’).

While Waters isn’t featured as heavily as I would have liked, and she’s not playing the sort of boozy ice queen she’d become known for — she would have made a great Columbo murderer — she brings a sense of gravity to the role that gives the character more depth than it otherwise would have. She brought that ability to so many shows — including the previously recommended NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66 — and is one of many reasons why she had such a long and fruitful career.