Friends since college, Oliver Brandt and Bertie Hastings
are partners in a powerful accounting firm. And both are members of
the Sigma Society, a club for geniuses.
Bertie has discovered that the flamboyant Oliver has embezzled
funds to support his wife's expensive tastes. Bertie has threatened to
expose his partner to the wealthy clients he is cheating.
When they are alone in the upstairs room of the Sigma Club, Oliver
uses a gun with a silencer to kill Bertie-two shots fired at close
range. He then sets up the elaborate scheme that will provide his
The gun goes into an umbrella that is stuffed up the chimney.
Alligator clamps attached to two small charges are clipped to the
umbrella's metal frame. A small electrical wire runs from the chimney
to the club's computerized record turntable. And a marker is set in the
path of the needle arm, poised over a dictionary that has been
balanced on the edge of its stand. Oliver also knows that the opening
of the front door of the room can cause the back door to swing shut.
This is how the alibi scheme works: a) Oliver sets the record player
so the needle will come down near the end of an LP, leaving only four
minutes until the arm rejects; b) Oliver [eaves the room and joins the
other club members downstairs; c) the arm rejects and makes contact
with the first clamp, setting off the first charge; d) the people
downstairs think they have heard a shot; e) the arm continues on its
path, knocking over the marker, which tumbles onto the dictionary
and causes the thick book to fall to the floor; f) the people
hear a "body" hit the floor directly after the first shot; g)
makes contact with the second clamp, setting off the other charge; h)
the people downstairs think they've heard a second shot; i) everyone
rushes upstairs, bursting through the front door and causing the back
door to slam shut; j) everyone assumes that the murderer has just
escaped out the back way.
Oliver seems to have manufactured the perfect alibi. He was
down stairs when everyone heard what they thought were shots and
Bertie's body falling to the floor. The next day, Oliver returns to the
club and removes the gun.
But even a genius can't anticipate a detective with the skills of
Lieutenant Columbo. The policeman is bothered by the record player.
Why would someone program it to start near the end' That leads him
to the funny scratch marks on the right side of the turntable. The
police lab concludes that they could have been made by alligator
Somewhat more troubling is the fact that everyone heard the body
fall between the two shots. Yet the coroner says the two bullets
entered at almost the same angle. Bertie was standing when both
shots were fired. By accident, Columbo discovers how the back door
has a habit of swinging shut when the front door is opened. He's sure
the scene was staged, and after pressuring Oliver's secretary, the
lieutenant uncovers a motive.
A trip to Oliver's home confirms his suspicions. Oliver has the same
model turntable in his home and the accountant's umbrella has scorch
marks on the inside.
Columbo summons Oliver to the club and demonstrates how he
thinks Bertie was killed. He runs through the scenario at a fever
The only thing this man left to chance, Columbo says, is the dictionary
falling between the two explosions. Oliver is insulted. Such a genius
wouldn't leave anything to chance. He would make sure the dictionary
fell at the right time. That's not possible, Columbo chall lenges. lust
the arm is rejecting, Oliver grabs the marker and proves it is
That's what a genius would have done. Yes, Cotumbo does see.
Oliver has just supplied the missing piece of the puzzle.
Resigned and impressed, Oliver suggests that Columbo's brilliant
mind might be put to better use in another field. He asks the detective
if he has ever considered another line of work.
"No, never," the lieutenant says. "I couldn't do
"The Bye=Bye Sky High l.Q. Murder Case" (easily the longest
Columbo title) is the first and least successful of the six episodes
produced by Richard Alan Simmons.
The mystery is unsatisfying on two counts. First, it's highly unlikely
that a man of Oliver's great intelligence would knowingly face such a
formidable adversary and incriminate himself in such a stupid manner.
Although effectively staged, the climax is not at all convincing.
Secondly, in trying to make Oliver one of the more sympathetic
Columbo murderers, writer Robert Malcolm Young made him too
weak. The fun is always in wondering how in the world Columbo will
catch his suspect. Oliver isn't any challenge at all. We know our hero
has got this guy nailed. Almost never dealing from an attitude of
haughty superiority (odd since he's a genius), Oliver is on the run
the moment Columbo sees him. There's no challenge to this catand-
mouse game. It's all too one-sided. You want Columbo to close the
case and put this poor sweating guy out of his misery.
The script also contains a few contrivances that are hard to
The club members, for instance, are all too conveniently talking
installing a burglar alarm just minutes before Oliver (surprise,
surprise) makes it appear that a burglar killed Bertie.
Still, like all of the weaker episodes, "The Bye-Bye Sky High l.Q.
Murder Case" has plenty to recommend it, not the least of which is
the robust likability and charm of Theodore Bikel. The Viennese-born
actor/singer/guirarist was better suited for the role than anyone knew.
"I got involved with it through [actor] Sam Wanamaker," Bikel
explained. "He directed it. I was close to that character. At one
or another in my checkered past, I was a member of that type of
society-Mensa. The members were drawn from the top two
percent of tested intelligence. So I had something to draw on."
"I always thought Mensa was the silliest organization on
By the time Bikel got involved with Columbo, the ten- and fourteen-
day shooting schedules of the early seasons had been expanded to
accommodate Falk's perfectionism.
"I remember we had twenty-two shooting days for a ninety-minute
episode," Bikes recalled. "That was wonderful. The whole
was a lot of fun. I read mysteries and like them, so it was a pleasure
to do a Columbo. Peter is not what he plays. He's much more
cultured. He had a lot of artistic control and he used it to make other
artists comfortable. He'd tell me he would go for as many takes until I
was pleased with it. That's very rare in television."
Look closely and you'll spot a brief but funny appearance by Jamie
Lee Curtis a year away from her starting rote in John Carpenter's
Halloween and six years away from her portrayal of a good-hearted
hooker in the John Landis comedy Trading Places. The daughter of
a Colurtlbo murderer Janet Leigh in "Forgotten Lady") plays a
waitress who forces Columbo to give up a doughnut he brought into
The episode is also significant because it introduces departures that
Simmons would make better use of in his five remaining episodes.
Columbo's entrance usually was underplayed. People would
dismiss the bedraggled figure in a raincoat.
"Dick Simmons had a slightly different approach," Falk said.
tried to create a lot more tension between Columbo and the
murderers. So he made the entrances a little more formidable.
Columbo was no longer looking for his pen. In the first shows, the
adversaries were totally confident and Columbo represented some
minor annoyance. I don't think Dick quite believed that. Dick wanted
more tension. It was another way of looking at it. On reflection, the
entrances in Dick's shows aren't all that dissimilar to what Levinson
and Link wrote for Prescription: Murder. There is a certain amount of
tension when he first meets the murderer."
There's a scene in "The Bye-Bye Sky High l.Q. Murder Case" in
which Columbo runs through a torrential downpour. For once it is
mining in sunny California and the lieutenant doesn't have his
Mrs. Columbo picked that night to use her new spot remover.
The scene comes very close to the series finale concocted by
Levinson and Link.
"We always wanted the last show to be a story in which he doesn't
wear his raincoat during the entire case," Dick Levinson related.
being dry-cleaned. At the very end, with the case solved, he walks
outside and it's starting to rain. He puts his hands in the air and we
have a freeze-frame. That's how we wanted the series to end."