Columbo: Identity Crisis

I find that this is only the second episode of Columbo I’ve blogged about here, and for the same reason I wrote about the first: for the sake of the guest villain, in this case Patrick McGoohan. I realised I hadn’t seen any of the Columbo episodes in which McGoohan guest stars, and found the box set for a song. In case I should be seen to damn with faint praise, perhaps I had better just observe that I rarely watch Columbo, so the fact that I have made a point of writing about two episodes for the sake of the guest stars, isn’t really an indictment of the series, more an indication of my interests.
I am very interested to see how McGoohan – notorious for being temperamental, overpowering and difficult – plays his part in this episode. I started off thinking that he would be overpowering, just by his sheer presence in the opening scenes in comparison to Leslie Nielsen, himself no bit-part actor. As the episode goes on I was relieved to find McGoohan becoming more subtle in his portrayal and even taking a back seat in comparison to Peter Falk. I would be interested to know how an American would see McGoohan’s accent in this show. As an Irish-American he was of course capable of speaking English with a number of different accents, and to me as a British English speaker, his accent here sounds to become more transatlantic as the show goes on. At the beginning he sounds like Number 6, and ends up sounding like John Drake in the more American-leaning Danger Man episodes. Of course this is only how it sounds to me, which is why I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions.
He even says ‘Be seeing you’ once. I find it interesting that I have found several references to the Prisoner-esque overtones of this show. To me they are confined to that one phrase, McGoohan’s accent at the beginning, and the mere fact of him being in this. Perhaps by this time he was so heartily sick of people chewing over The Prisoner ad nauseam that he willingly agreed to this act which is almost saying, ‘Look! We’ve got The Prisoner character playing a baddie!’
Plot-wise, I would say avoid this or don’t watch the first few minutes if you want to work out who did it yourself. If you’re a fan of police procedurals you may like this, although given the show’s premise that the audience knows who did the murder, I think it will be fairly obvious who did it. The things which ultimately give the game away are to my mind plot weaknesses in actual fact. An intelligent man setting up a crime should not leave the obvious clues which give it away: in fact there is no clear reason given why he should have murdered his colleague at all. I like the way McGoohan plays a powerful character, who tries to intimidate Columbo with his connections and overtly tells him that his reasonable detective work is harassment. Obviously these attempts at intimidation are not going to work!
So all in all, an interesting take on McGoohan’s ability as an actor, and an opportunity to see him in a very different role from the angry Prisoner character, but to my mind one for the real Columbo fans.