Patrick McGoohan and Leslie Nielsen in Columbo: Identity Crisis (1975)

The Name's Columbo, Lieutenant Columbo

When the cops find a body on the beach they think it is yet another in a string of muggings, that is everyone other than Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) who finds it suspicious that the man has a broken poker chip. As Columbo starts investigating the clues, a photo taken of the dead man at the amusement park by the beach leads him to Nelson Brenner (Patrick McGoohan) a professional speech writer. Except Brenner is not really a speech writer, he is a CIA agent and a dirty double one at that who is behind the murder of A.J. Henderson (Leslie Nielsen) a fellow spy.

On paper the idea behind "Columbo: Identity Crisis" is a good one, pitch the brilliant but seemingly bumbling brain of Columbo against the skills of a spy who is a trained killer and is an expert in covering their tracks. The trouble is the sort of spy stuff they incorporate into this episode does not fit comfortably in to the world of Columbo and it makes this episode from season 5 feel manufactured.

Peter Falk in Columbo: Identity Crisis (1975)

But whilst "Columbo: Identity Crisis" has elements which for me don't fit comfortably into the world of "Columbo" it is still entertaining as we watch the shabby lieutenant hook on to the smallest of clues and irregularities to unlock the mystery of the murder and essentially harass his suspect. And Patrick McGoohan makes for a decent nemesis full of confidence and arrogance which makes you actually wonder if this is going to be an episode where Columbo himself ends up in danger. But the fun of Columbo taking on a spy just doesn't really manifest itself properly and it certainly doesn't have the thrills you might associate with a spy movie.

What this all boils down to is that "Columbo: Identity Crisis" is sadly one of those episodes where the idea was better than the end product. It is the idea of pitching Columbo against a Spy which is wrong because those classic spy elements don't fit comfortably in to the world of Columbo.