All good things must come to an end, and so it is with our Night Thread series, this journey we have taken together, Columbo Uses the Telephone. Yes, Columbo would use other telephones at other times, but those are stories for another day. Tonight we celebrate one final union of Columbo and telephone.
This clip, like last night’s, is from season four, episode one, “An Exercise in Fatality.” That’s right — two top-notch telephone scenes in one episode! Is Columbo not a river to his people?
This is the climax of a long scene in which Columbo, looking for information, is tormented by a computer filing system and by the lady you see behind the counter, who by this point hates Columbo’s guts. It is 1974, and even after all he’s suffered at the hands of technology, our hero is unprepared for the possibility that he might have to leave a message on an answering machine. Don’t feel bad, Columbo; this is one area in which society has not advanced at all in the intervening forty-seven years. Leaving messages is still agonizing, and everybody still sucks at it.
But the existence of the answering machine does give him a clue as to how the killer set up his fake alibi. Is the awkwardness of leaving messages worth it if it can sometimes help solve a murder? The answer… is no.