Series 5 Episode 6
Last Salute to the Commodore

Episode Overview

Series 5

Episode 6

First broadcast: 1976

2 cigars

“It feels like they've adapted it from a script written for another programme and crow-barred in a scruffy man in a mac.“

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A well known and regarded naval architect, Commodore Otis Swanson, has become discontented with the way his son-in-law has turned his boat building firm into a vast, impersonal corporation, and has become fed up of his family freeloading off the company. He intends to sell the company, but before he can, his son-in-law is seen dumping his body into the sea.

And so it comes to pass that the master detective is brought in when the Commodore's boat is found out to sea, empty. The Commodore is nowhere to be seen - his body being out with the fishes. That, naturally, doesn't stop Columbo looking out for a murderer.

What he finds is a drunken daughter, a less drunken nephew, a ship yard manager, a very English and very self important lawyer, and a son-in-law who stands around a lot.

It's the son-in-law, Charles Clay, that features most heavily in the early episode. You see him with the dead body, then you see him standing around woodenly. Woodenly on boats. Woodenly whilst talking about boats. Woodenly whilst not talking about boats. Then at the end you find out Patrick MacGoohan directed the episode, and, if you've watched The Prisoner, suddenly everything makes sense. The fact that people stand around doing nothing, and barely moving; cast members muttering in each others ears furtively; long, long, ever so long pauses at the end of sentances; and Swanny laughing hysterically at the end - it all fits perfectly in the MacGoohan mould.

Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer

Err... Well Columbo holds a ticking watch to the ears of each of the suspects and goes "Commodore's Watch" to each of them. One of them goes "Tisn't." Columbo explains to the audience what "Tisn't" means. Apparently it means: "It isn't", or "It is not". Then proclaims that that person is the murderer.

As ways to catch out the murderer, it's probably one of the worst. Mind you the murderer was drunk so it was probably one of the easiest ways.

Convolutedness of the murder

Hit over the head with some wooden boat related pins. Then body dumped at sea. It was, at least, pre-meditated. And of course, it was all about rich people trying to get hold of money. So that's something.

How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?

Given Columbo barely seems to know who the murderer is until near the end, he barely gets chance to annoy anyone!

The smug-richness factor

Well no one seemed overly smug, and the money aspect seemed to come from the fact that the Commodore was going to sell the company, and thus they couldn't leech off it. However the murderer does stand to inherit everything. Not that you find out that until just before they're un-masked.

Frankly there was just no one you could call a nasty piece of work.

Quality of sub-plot:

There was a sub plot????

Mentions of Mrs Columbo

One. Right at the end. Columbo gets in a boat and proclaims he's going to meet her at the Yacht Club. It feels rather contrived - like someone sat down with a Columbo episode check list and went through it... and suddenly realised there was something missing...

I mean. Was Columbo even a member of the Yacht Club? Most episodes he can barely stand on a boat without being sea-sick, and suddenly he's meeting his wife in the Yacht Club!

More disappointingly, she's not a big fan of anyone! Although I think it's fair to say Mrs Columbo probably wasn't ever going to take an overly keen interest in the high class, glamorous world of yacht building. Her loss, I'm sure.

What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?

Besides a bit of yachts - especially self-steering vanes and missenbooms - Columbo gets to learn more about transendantal meditation from a bit part character who is given as much to do in the whole episode, as a twig, despite being a key player in the plot.

Was anyone given sedatives?

Surprisingly not, although throughout the episode you can't but wish someone would put the drunken daughter of the Commodore a sleeping too, if for no other reason than to ensure we don't have to hear her shrieking and crying...

Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes

Unlike most Columbo episodes, you don't actually see the murder take place. You think you know who the murderer is, but you never quite see it. Then someone kills our suspected murderer. And you don't know who. In fact you never know who until the end. It's not right. How on earth are you supposed to feel smug and self satisfied when Columbo catches them out at the end, if you don't know who it was!? One of the simple joys of Columbo is seeing the murderer think they've got away with it, only to find Columbo has got them by something really amazingly obscure that they did. But here, even Columbo doesn't seem too sure who the murderer was until ten minutes before the end.

Then to make things even more bizarre, Columbo's no longer a solo act. He's got a sidekick. Sgt Kramer is, as usual, hanging around doing what a good sarge does best, light holding lampshades upside down. But then there's some new kid, "Mac", that "the chief wants Columbo to take under his wing". This starts promising by Columbo almost ignoring him for half the episode so that Mac just ends up wandering around behind Columbo like some lost puppy. But towards the end, Mac ends up in some odd double act with Sgt Kramer, whilst Columbo wanders around being mysterious. It's almost like NBC were trying to prepare some sort of mad Columbo spin-off - Mac and Kramer Investigate or something.

Did we mention that at the end of the episode, Columbo gets all the suspects in a room and tells them how the murder was done - and goes round the room to each of the suspects? What are they thinking? Did Agatha Christie write this or something?

As for inconsistencies, one big gaping one in that in multiple other episodes, Columbo seems to get sea-sick just looking at a boat, yet seems quite happy to wander around on the sea in this case!

Oh and just for good measure, the roof on Columbo's car is seen down for no apparent reason. That just never happens.

Appearances by the Regular Cast

It's straight in there with Sgt George Kramer, played by Bruce Kirby. Result. He's the classic Columbo sergeant - always a delight to be Columbo's foil. There to look completely baffled at Columbo's every move. Bruce appeared in a whopping 9 Columbo episodes.

Then it's a prominent role for Fred Draper, who appeared in four Columbos - and even got to murder someone in this one.

There's even a small part for the legend of Barney's Beanery himself! Yes, John Finnegan's here! The man who has someone managed to be one minute a police commissioner, the next the owner of a chilli restaurant gets a tiny part as a security guard with a cheap watch!


Lets get this straight from the offset. This is not the finest Columbo episode you'll ever see. All right, it's not the worst, but not knowing who the murderer is until right at the end makes it all rather unsatisfying. The extremely slow pace and long pauses make it seem either like MacGoohan didn't really know what he was doing (and that seems unlikely), or he was working with not very much material and trying desperately to make it fill the space by making it all rather slow and weird.

In fact the whole episode just feels wrong for Columbo. It feels like they've adapted it from a script written for another programme and crow-barred in a scruffy man in a mac.

Oh yeah, that reminds me. Why was that sidekick called Mac? Well we find out right at the last minute. Despite not doing so throughout the whole episode, he suddenly turns up at the end holding a mac - because you never know when you'll need one. Cue one nickname. Not that this makes any sense at all because he is barely seen with a coat throughout the whole episode. I mean, if you get a nickname for something, you do it ALL the time. Not once at the end.

Although Columbo does look at a coat over a chair at one point. Is this supposed to be a clue?

Your View

Johhny the Boy

Posted on 8 June 2012 at 9:12 PM

Not particularly memorable episode, but the closing scene despite the borderline mawkishness, is utterly glorious.

Ron Henry

Posted on 11 February 2013 at 6:35 PM

To better understand where this episode is coming from, watch some episodes of Patrick McGoohan's own series, The Prisoner. What McGoohan has done here is basically shoot a Columbo episode in the style of The Prisoner, which is a pretty weird experiment.


Posted on 12 March 2013 at 10:39 PM

The raincoat gag is rooted in the fact that Mac is wearing one because his mentor, Columbo, is.


Posted on 24 April 2013 at 4:15 AM

I actually enjoy the ponderous nature of the episode; it really adds to the absurdity of everything. Of course, the final "evidence" is almost as absurd as it comes in Columbo, but since McGoohan chose to go in that direction with EVERYTHING in this episode, it seems strangely appropriate. In the hands of a less eccentric director it could have gone horribly wrong, but to me this is a brilliant episode.

I would also argue that Mrs. Clay's drunkenness could be called a subplot, though obviously a very small one. As for my favorite scenes, all the touchy-feely interaction between Columbo and Charles Clay is absolutely hilarious, especially when they're all crammed into the car. I also love the scene where Columbo is trying to talk to foreman Fred over all the racket in the boatyard. To me, it's some of the most wonderfully unique comedy ever put on American television, made all the more wonderful by the fact that the show isn't billed as a comedy. Some procedural dramas have tried and often failed to have an offbeat episode. Columbo succeeds.

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