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Published:March 14th, 2014 14:37 EST
Did Columbo (Peter Falk) Have Enough to Arrest Paul Hanlon (Robert Culp) in 'The Most Crucial Game' (Season Two, Episode 3)?

Did Columbo (Peter Falk) Have Enough to Arrest Paul Hanlon (Robert Culp) in 'The Most Crucial Game' (Season Two, Episode 3)?

By John G. Kays

Okay, so I`d bought Columbo Season One (starring Peter Falk) at Barnes and Nobles last weekend (I was looking for Unsolved Mysteries, but I discovered, that`s out of print now), so I finished watching all nine parts, I couldn`t get enough! Therefore, I needed to view one episode from Season Two on Netflix`s Instant Watch this morning, thinking that would tide me over, until I can have the entire season for my own. 

The part I ended up choosing and viewing was # 3, The Most Crucial Game, (72 minutes, first aired on November 5, 1972), with some great guest stars: Robert Culp, Dean Jagger, Valerie Harper, and Dean Stockwell in a special role as an irresponsible rich playboy, who ends up providing the writers (principal is John T. Dugan) with a guinea pig who is a perfect victim.

Well, particularly, I thought to choose an episode with Bob Culp, `cuz he was so great as a high tech PI (and naturally, he was the murderer) in Death Lends A Hand from Season One (73 minutes, aired October 6, 1971). Boy, I still have one more Bob Culp Columbo I`m looking forward to, Double Exposure, which appears in Season Three (73 minutes, broadcast December 16, 1973). 

I`ll take anything with Robert Culp in it; he`s a bit mean in this one, playing Paul Hanlon, the general manager of the Los Angeles Rockets, who wants to get his greedy hands on Eric Wagner`s (Dean Stockwell) lucrative sports empire.

Let me get this out of the way before I forget; the argument for owning the DVDs is that the print on Netflix had an awful, irritating loop wrinkle in the film, that`s recurring every minute or so, putting a huge crinkle in Columbo`s head (even denting his signature cigar a trifle). 

Anyhow, I loved it tremendously in spite of this minor technical glitch! I guess, the thing I liked the most was the way that Paul Hanlon rubs out Eric Wagner, especially with the Ding-A-Ling ice cream truck driver getup (affect), cleverly employed in the commission of a homicide. Did Paul hose off the pavement by the cement pond? I may have missed that.

While I`m thinking of it, there`s outstanding shots of the Los Angeles airport and of the LA Memorial Coliseum, from 1972 of course. I just read, and this is interesting, but the stock footage used in The Most Crucial Game, which was suppose to be of the fictitious team, the LA Rockets (owned by the victim Eric Wagner), was actually real footage from the very first Superbowl, between the Green Bay Packers and The Kansas City Chiefs (1967). 

Most important of all, I did a bit of research on Columbo`s clunker, that nearly, in some ways, upstages Peter Falk; well, not quite, but it`s like an appendage to him, as is the raincoat, messy hair, old shoes (oh, don`t forget the smoking cigar, Mister John!).

That so happens to be a 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible (only 504 were manufactured), with the faded, grayish camouflage paint job; Peter Falk picked it out himself, as he did his shabby threads (class conflict is a constant undercurrent). He ad libs many of his own lines and wanted his guests to act spontaneous and natural as well. He and Bob Culp have magical chemistry in terms of the cat and mouse/culprit and sleuth dynamics, that are the template of a successful television detective series. 


Furthermore, the gadgetry is amazing in this one and is an integral part of the plot; let`s see, we have the tape recorder, a wall clock, bugged phones (Watergate will probably come to mind), the Ding-A-Ling ice cream truck, oh, and don`t forget the transistor radio used by the cunning Paul Hanlon (oh one more thing, don`t forget the crafty use of those dinosaur phone booths by Mr. Culp). 

And another thing, which I better not fail to mention; I was wondering why I always keep intensely glued to the TV screen (when watching Columbo), totally caught up in each scene, often gripped with riveting suspense.

This is because of the fitting, customized music score, usually provided by Richard Dick DeBenedictis; these scores may be partly responsible for the category we know today as Crime Jazz. This is not the time or place to indulge in such an ambitious diatribe or zinger of a sidebar, but you might want to keep it in mind, the next time you indulge in an episode (which will most likely be tonight). Go back and listen to the soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin for Bullitt (starring Steve McQueen), exact same thing!

As far as the ending goes, I got a little confused towards the denouement, you know, when the light bulb comes on, and Detective Columbo makes the connections he`s been trying to make all along, as he goes after his man (although, sometimes it`s a woman, such as in Lady In Waiting, starring Susan Clark and Leslie Nielsen). 

Well, I ought to qualify that by saying, I get somewhat confused on all the endings. But  how did he prove that Paul did it; just by the clock not chiming at 2:30 PM (not audible on the recording)? Yea, this shows he wasn`t in the stadium box, that he was at a different location when phoning Eric, but how does this prove he killed Dean (the candy colored clown they call the sandman)? 

Of course, the police couldn`t access telephone records in those days (that sure sounds sweet, doesn`t it?), so Columbo had to figure it out the hard way (the clock wasn`t on the bugged tape), he had to use his brain!

But then again, a little girl saw him at the phone booth with his purloined Ding-A-Ling truck; this wasn`t mentioned, but maybe she could`ve identified Bob Culp. We know that Paul was aware of Eric`s phone being tapped; this is why he had the game playing on a transistor radio when he called Dean from the phone booth, which was really right near his home. It would establish his alibi; it also would get him caught! 

 Yet, another thing, why did he have to fire Wagner`s (fake) secretary, Eve Babcock (played by Valerie Harper)? Of course, she was in on the wiretapping, working with the PI (Val Avery), hired by Eric`s attorney, Walter Cannell (played by Dean Jagger), but firing her tipped Columbo off. I may have to see that one again; I don`t see how Columbo had enough to arrest Paul Hanlon?,0,4489995,full.story#axzz2vwtIIrf3