First broadcast October 27, 1971.
Preceded by Death Lends a Hand
Followed by Suitable for Framing
Written by John T. Dugan
Directed by Jack Smight
Key Guest Cast
Eddie Albert was a well known actor who had been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Roman Holiday several decades earlier (and would be again for The Heartbreak Kid two years later). He was best known at the time for his lead role in the sitcom Green Acres opposite Eva Gabor.
Suzanne Pleshette had played a supporting role in Hitchcock’s The Birds but would achieve even greater success a year after this episode when she was cast as Bob’s wife in The Bob Newhart Show which ran for six seasons and earned her two Emmy nominations.
An entertaining story that like the previous episode features an unplanned crime.
Major General Martin Hollister was a Korean war hero who started a construction company after retiring. With the help of Colonel Dutton he secured several military contracts at knockdown prices, then embezzled the overspends. Dutton comes to see him to say that those transactions are now being investigated and that he plans to flee the country. Unwilling to trust in Dutton’s silence, Hollister shoots him and plans to dispose of the body.
Unfortunately for Hollister the shooting was partially seen by Helen Stewart who was sailing on the river at the time and she reports it. Columbo is dispatched to visit the property to see if he can find signs of a shooting or the body.
Like the previous story, Dead Weight features an unplanned crime. Hollister acts in the spur of the moment and is forced to create a plan on the spur of the moment to avoid detection. While I feel the lack of pre-planning created a pretty bland case in that story, the involvement of a witness here and Hollister’s background and strong personality make for a much more interesting scenario.
This story is the first Columbo case to feature a witness and I think it works well here. Not only is the character played brilliantly by Suzanne Pleshette, the inclusion of a witness in the case adds a fresh angle for the killer to address and adds a level of tension and uncertainty as we wonder what might happen to her.
Pleshette’s character, a divorcee who is living with her mother (played by the highly entertaining Kate Reid), is an entertaining and sympathetic one. Her actions are often in response to the nagging and interference from her mother, who firmly believes her daughter made up the shooting, but I also appreciate that she stands up to Columbo and points out the inconsistencies in his treatment of her.
I am less keen on one aspect of how her story develops, in part because I could not believe she would respond to direct interactions with Hollister in the manner shown, no matter how charming the character might be. I do recognize though what this development allows the plot to do and I appreciate the way it contributes to the tension of the piece, even if I don’t find it credible.
As for Hollister, he is a superb creation who combines many of the best attributes of the villains we have seen in the preceding episodes. He is clearly smart and organized, possesses great charm and feels he can handle Columbo’s questions (while being aware of the danger he is in). Like Brimmer in the previous story, you could make a case that he is responsible for building the case against himself but the difference is that there is a much clearer reason for Columbo to suspect him.
There are some great moments and exchanges between Albert and Falk including some particularly enjoyable ones that take place on Hollister’s boat. These are not just beautifully shot, conveying an enormous amount of speed and power (clearly designed to disconcert and throw Columbo off his game), they also prompt some wonderful sparring sessions and mind games between the pair.
While I think it is safe to say that there are a couple of far-fetched plot developments here, a superb villain and excellent performances from the cast make this an enjoyable episode of the series.
6 thoughts on “Columbo: Dead Weight (TV)”
(Spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode)
I think Dead Weight falls halfway between the usual Columbo episode about a planned murder and Death Lends a Hand and the others about unplanned ones. Could one call the killing of the colonel a semi-planned murder? What I mean by that is that while Hollister, as we see him shaving at the start of the story, has no idea he’s going to kill Dutton in a few minutes, consider that he is an intelligent man who’s been running a crooked operation for years and is hardened to violence. I think part of his backstory is that he had long since considered the possibility that he’d have to kill someone to protect himself, and made certain preparations. That would explain that corny hidden closet where he stores the body, and why he told the lie about his pistol having been stolen.
Eddie Albert could play a great villain (see The Longest Yard if you haven’t already) and in some ways it’s a shame he’s best remembered for Green Acres, although it was often a hilarious show and I’m sure he was glad for the six years of steady income it provided.
Kate Reid was a great Canadian actress and it was a pleasant surprise for this Canadian to see her in this episode.
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I interpreted it that way as well. My assumption was that he had been following rumors that there would be an investigation – he certainly couldn’t have known that it would happen at that moment though.
I presumed as well that he had used the secret panel to hide the paperwork and so forth from his secret business but it is very corny as you say.
I haven’t seen The Longest Yard but will add it now to the long list of movies I need to see. Thanks for the recommendation!
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You know, that gives me an idea for how the episode might have been improved. Instead of Hollister getting up in the morning at the start, it’s a bit later in the day, and he’s going over some of his paperwork. When the doorbell rings, he hastily puts everything away in the hidden closet, closes it up, and opens the door to find Dutton. After he kills the colonel, we see a quick sequence of his wrapping up and stashing the body. Things then proceed as in the actual episode. When Columbo has his look around the apartment, we know where the body is, but Columbo doesn’t find it, although he comes close… sort of like the suspenseful sequence in Hitchcock’s ROPE where the maid almost but not quite uncovers the corpse.
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Yes – I think that would have significantly improved that opening and made a lot more sense!
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Shouldn’t gunning down someone in your living room create a considerable amount of bloodstains? I doubt an old man such as the General would be able to wrap up a body, string it up and clean everything up by the time the police investigate. Even cleaning blood pools can soil towels and rags quite rapidly.
I can only assume that the bullet lodged itself somewhere in the body like these defective Columbo bullets seem to always do! I try not to think too hard about these sorts of forensic questions when it comes to the show but you are right, of course.