The tenth episode of Columbo was titled The Most Crucial Game and was the third episode of the show’s second season. The owner of a professional football franchise is killed by a frustrated employee and Columbo once more has to prove that a seeming accident was murder. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the motivations and machinations of the episode.
There were echoes of Season One’s Lady in Waiting, Short Fuse, Blueprint for Murder and the Season Two opener Ètude in Black in this episode, as a significant portion of Columbo’s task was to establish that there had been a murder committed at all. The lieutenant only has one suspect in mind and it is the returning Robert Culp who faces that suspicion, in his role as Paul Hanlon – a trusted aide of Dean Stockwell‘s victim, Eric Wagner.
Supporting roles in The Most Crucial Game were played by Dean Jagger as Private Investigator Walter Cunnell, James Gregory as LA Rockets Head Coach Rizzo, Valerie Harper as the mysterious Eve Babcock (or Miss Ricoji!) and Susan Howard in a brief appearance as the widowed Shirley Wagner.
Cameos by members of the 1972 LA Lakers (including Pat Riley but, sadly, not Wilt Chamberlain) and the crowd attending Super Bowl I (though the game footage was not from the Super Bowl) added to the episode’s authenticity and charm.
During this episode we asked listeners if they could identify the actor playing Miss Babcock’s client. If you have thoughts on that issue or any other aspect of The Most Crucial Game then please feel free to comment below, or find us on Twitter at @columbopodcast.
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The Most Crucial Game was released in 1972. It is 74 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.